An open sale and purchase of votes in the Senate election shows deep roots of corruption in Pakistan’s society and electoral system. It presented a bad image of the country to the outside world and maligned democracy in Pakistan. The only positive from the election was that doubts have been removed about the conduct of the next general election but a clear picture has emerged of the use of wealth to buy votes.
Besides horse trading, all parties had fielded candidates, who were not qualified to be senators. Most of them are billionaires and adjusted for their loyalty to their political leaders. Even the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which raises the slogan of change, was no exception. The choice of the candidates of all parties was questionable. The Senate of a country represents intellectuals and professionals from all federating units. In Pakistan, a personal servant of a political leader can become a senator. Dozens of new senators fall in that category. They will continue to behave like personal servants of their leaders. Some are those who were adjusted after the general election. They had been asked to withdraw their candidature in the general election and promised Senate tickets. They, or their nominees, who are their relatives, were adjusted in the Upper House, without considering their qualification and merit. It is also clear that senators, who have bought votes, will try to recover the amount with interest in the shortest possible time.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) emerged as the biggest party in the polls. However, it was the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that stunned all parties by bagging more seats than expected. The PTI, on the other hand, managed to secure its expected number of seats and expand its presence in the Upper House with five more seats than it had previously. The biggest losers were the PML-Q and BNP-A, which lost their representation in the Senate after a poor showing. The MQM also suffered a serious blow. In the Punjab, 11 candidates, backed by the PML-N, were elected on 12 seats from the province. The PTI bagged one seat. In Sindh, the PPP won 10 seats, MQM one and PML-F one seat. Krishna Kohli of the PPP was the first Dalit woman to be elected as a senator. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI won five seats, PML-N two seats, PPP two seats, JUI-F one seat and Jamaat-i-Islami one seat. The PML-N won two seats from Islamabad while independents bagged four FATA seats. In Balochistan, independents won six seats, National Party two seats, PkMAP two seats and JUI-F one seat. The PML-N suffered a big blow in Balochistan and could not win a single seat after losing its provincial government a few months ago. An alliance comprising dissidents from the PML-N and PML-Q managed to get six seats. Besides losing all seats in Balochistan and losing a seat to the PTI in the Punjab, the election results set alarm bells ringing in the ruling party in its home province as 40 of its MPAs did not cast their votes.
Crying foul, all political parties, except the PPP, called for an investigation into the allegation of horse trading and corruption. Even former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who pioneered Changa Manga politics in Pakistan, demanded a probe. He said all political parties, which had secured more seats than their proportional representation in the provincial assemblies, had rigged the election and demanded an investigation to ascertain if the change of loyalty was based on a change of mind, financial gains or some other factors. PTI Chairman Imran Khan said a vote was purchased and sold for up to Rs40 million. “Our own people also sold themselves,” he admitted. According to initial investigations, between 17 and 20 PTI MPAs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had voted for candidates of other parties. As Imran Khan questioned the victory of two PPP candidates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PPP put the same question to the PTI with respect to the victory of its candidate in the Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), which suffered a major setback in the election, announced that it would challenge the Senate polls in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and courts, accusing the PPP and the Pak Sarzameen Party of “harassing” its lawmakers and “buying” the mandate of Karachi. Dr. Farooq Sattar alleged the PPP had harassed more than 15 legislators of his party to pressure them to change their loyalty. The MQM won only one seat.
The elections have badly damaged the sanctity and credibility of the Senate after buying and selling of votes. All parties, except the PPP, have accused others of horse trading. A vote was sold or purchased for Rs40m to 50m. The PTI believes at least 11 of its MPAs sold their votes. The PML-N claims at last three or four of its MPAs voted for PTI candidate Chaudhry Sarwar. Corruption was so rampant in the election that it is said a woman MPA from Faisalabad demanded Rs20m from her own party to cast her vote.
There was no winner in the election and democracy was the biggest loser. People have already lost hope in the system and open purchase and sale of votes have further tarnished the image of politicians and democracy. The system will have to be changed to improve the public perception of democracy in the country. The Election Commission of Pakistan should replace the old secret ballot system with open voting for Senate elections to check corrupt practices. The Supreme Court of Pakistan should also take notice of the corruption and order the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other institutions to investigate the issue. All parties should join hands in the parliament to legislate for direct elections to the Senate, otherwise, rigging and horse trading will continue, thus perpetuating the mockery of Pakistan’s so-called democracy.