NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 13

Critical time ahead

Politically, Pakistan is entering a very important, if not a critical era, of its history as elections for the Upper House of parliament are just round the corner, while the ruling party and the opposition alliance are going for one another’s jugular with political reconciliation seemingly quite impossible. The upcoming Senate of Pakistan election has become more important due to several factors. The foremost significance of the elections is that if all go normal, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would become the single largest party in the parliamentary chamber and together with its coalition partners could dominate it.

The attainment of a majority by the PTI and its allies in the Senate is critically important, not only for the party and its government but also for political stability in the country. It is to be noted that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, since its coming to power on August 18, 2018, does not have an easy majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan. It has only been the critical support of collation partners, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), that PM Khan has remained in the saddle. However, in the situation, lawmaking and governance both have not been easy, in particular when the ruling PTI does not have a majority in the Upper House. As the PTI has a two-thirds majority in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly and a thin majority in the Punjab Assembly and also has a good number of members in the Sindh Assembly, while its collation partner has the largest number of members in the Balochistan Assembly, the ruling party and its coalition partners would face no problem in getting a majority in the Senate of Pakistan. However, it would be interesting to see whether the PTI is able to keep unity among its ranks during the elections and whether its members vote according to the party’s policy and direction and to the party’s designated candidates.

It is quite apparent that there is an element of consternation within the ranks of the government and it fears that there may be slippages among its provincial assembly members during the Senate elections. It may be mentioned that the Electoral College for Senate polls is provincial assembly members. In order to avoid the possibility of changing political loyalties during the Upper House elections, as the polls are constitutionally held through secret ballots, the ruling party asked for an advisory role of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its intention to hold Senate elections through an open ballot. Although it may not be within the domain of the Apex Court to allow a change in the election method, yet the government is making an effort to hold elections through a “show of hands.” In this connection, President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi has also issued an ordinance.

Keeping in view the political history of Pakistan, fears of a change of political loyalties by members of the ruling party are quite justified. Firstly, governments in the past were stopped from getting a majority in the Senate. The powers that be have their own reasons for doing so, because political leaders of a particular political party, often belonging to a family, have been behaving like dictators, not only in their political party but also in the government whenever the party formed it. In order to prevent the “tyranny of majority,” the powers that be manipulated Senate elections or even sent the ruling parties packing before the polls. According to insiders, many leaders of the opposition’s so-called Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) formed the umbrella organisation in order to stop the ruling party from getting a majority in the Senate. In this regard, the opposition parties calculated that the powers that be would also support them to prevent the ruling party from winning over the Upper House. However, so far there are no indications that the powers that be have an intention to disturb the present dispensation. Still fears are on the minds of everyone. Historically, Senate elections have been an arena of vote-selling, where many members of provincial assemblies sold their votes to wealthy candidates, who offered handsome sums to them to become senators in order to use the perks and privileges associated with the membership of the Upper House.

If the PTI is able to get a majority in Senate elections, it would be highly significant for the country. After several decades, a third political force would have control of the Upper House. Historically, the PML-N and the PPP have been winning a majority in the Senate one after the other. However, today both have joined hands to challenge the ruling PTI. The control of the Senate by an untraditional political force would be very interesting to watch by observers. Already, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a close confidante of PTI chief and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, has unequivocally declared that once the government has a majority in the Senate, very stringent laws would be passed in order to deal with corruption and criminals. Most of the opposition PDM leaders have been facing corruption cases, however, the government is unable to do much by bringing changes into the accountability laws due to lack of parliamentary strength. Moreover, once the ruling PTI has a majority in the Senate, it would be able to come up with important legislation in other areas also.

Keeping in view the political history of Pakistan, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. In other words, the ruling PTI, which otherwise is quite well set to win the elections, but in the run-up to the elections anything could happen and we all must keep it in mind. Even if the PTI is able to win a majority in the Senate, the opposition movement against it would gather more momentum. But if PM Khan’s government is able to improve governance, which for the time-being is pathetic, then the opposition parties would have little leverage to exploit the situation. There is no doubt that the life of average Pakistanis has become quite miserable during the rule of the PTI. Although PM Khan’s rule is not completely responsible for it, as the past PML-N and PPP governments made an all-out effort to inflict damage on the country but the PTI rule has also not given any relief to the country or its people. If the situation remains the same and the quality of democracy does not improve and it continues to produce leaders, like Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Imran Khan, Fazlur Rahman or others, then the future of democracy is very dark.