NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 14

After Senate elections

The upcoming election of the Senate of Pakistan to be held in early March has become profoundly important as it appears that the future political course of the country would be decided by it. The election to the Senate of Pakistan, in which nearly a half of the members of the 104-member House would be elected, has become very important for several reasons.

The foremost reason that the Upper House election has become important is that several opposition parties have formed an anti-government alliance to oust the sitting government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), spearheaded by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The basic narrative of the opposition is that the July 2018 national elections, in which the then opposition party PTI had won a majority, were grossly rigged. Therefore, the government and the parliament, which has given birth to the government, have no legal standing. This is despite the fact that all opposition parties, including the PPP, PML-N, JUI-F, ANP and others members, have been part of the parliament and enjoying every perk and privilege of it. The PDM head, Fazlur Rahman, who is also the chief of his own faction, even contested the election of President of Pakistan and got votes of members of the National Assembly, which elected Imran Khan as Prime Minister. So, the opposition parties hope that many members of the ruling alliance, including the PTI, MQM, BAP and GDA, would vote for its candidates and thus the government would not be able to win all of its expected seats in the Senate. There is a likelihood of the scenario that the ruling PTI may not be able to win the expected number of seats in the Senate election. It is important to note that the election to the Senate in theory is proportionate to the number of votes a party has in the provincial assemblies, which serve as the electorate for nearly all members of the Senate. As the PTI has a majority in the Punjab Assembly, nearly a two-thirds majority in the Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly while its coalition partner, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), has a majority in the Balochistan Assembly, it is expected to win most of the vacant seats of the Senate in the election. However, as historically Senate elections are an event of quick and big money making by certain members of provincial assemblies, therefore, we have seen in the past election that many members of provincial assemblies (MPAs) voted for other parties’ candidates rather than their own party nominees. Now it is a proven fact that these MPAs did so after getting huge sums of money in return. Here lies the second reason for the importance of the Senate election.

As the election of members to the Senate is held through a secret vote, therefore, the respective party leadership is unable to enforce discipline and ensure in any way that the party MPAs vote for the party-nominated candidates. As the election involves huge sums of money for purchasing of votes, there is a colossal allurement for MPAs to vote for candidates who may offer handsome amounts as a bribe. Therefore, in order to curb this practice and menace, the ruling PTI, on the instruction of PM Khan, urged the Election Commission of Pakistan to adopt public voting during the Senate election. In this regard, a presidential ordinance has also been proclaimed. However, it was subject to the advice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, whose advisory jurisdiction was solicited by the federal government.

In case there is open voting, whose chances are quite little, as it would be prima facie against the provision of the Constitution, most MPAs would vote for their party candidates as any violation would result in straightforward disqualification under the provisions of the Political Parties Act. In the situation, the PTI and its allies would have a majority in the Senate of Pakistan. It would give the much-needed strength to the fragile and fledgling majority of the PTI in the National Assembly. Then, with a simple majority in both houses of the parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, the PTI government would be able to pass some very important laws which it could not due to lack of a majority in the Upper House. But more than the legislative aspect it is the political aspect of the Senate election that is critical for the sitting government. The government has completed exactly half of its five-year tenure and the rest of its tenure would greatly depend on its majority in the Senate because only in this way fundamental reforms, which the PTI wants to make and could not do so because of lack of a majority in the Senate, could be effectively made. It would also improve governance as PM Khan, who claims to be working for the provision of relief to the people, would not have to pay heed to the propaganda of the opposition parties. It may be mentioned that the PDM has already announced a “long march” against the PTI government on March 26.

In case the voting in the Senate election is held like the past, i.e. secretly, it is expected that the opposition parties may win more seats than the ruling PTI and its coalition partners. It appears that the opposition parties, most of which have ruled in the past, are offering heavy sums to the MPAs to buy their votes. The Senate election is also a make or break situation for the opposition parties, like the PML-N, PPP, as most members of the parties are facing corruption and financial embezzlement cases in the country’s accountability courts and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The government of PM Khan wants to bring about important changes to corruption laws and procedures to prosecute alleged corrupt politicians and officials and it needs a majority in the Senate to effectively do so. This is a nightmare for many key leaders of the opposition, therefore, they are trying tooth and nail to stop the PTI and allies from getting a majority in the Senate. Thus, the Senate election to elect a half of the members of the Upper House is significant in a number of ways and would have serious consequences for democracy, the political system and political culture of the country.