FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 01

The Senate surprise

The Senate no-confidence vote results took everyone by surprise. In the 104-strong House, 53 votes were needed for the first-ever no-trust motion against a Senate chairman to succeed. But the motion got only 50 yes votes from the 100 present in the House.


It may be added here that out of the total of 104 senators, 64 belong to the opposition parties and 36 to the government and its allies. Forty-five Senators rejected the motion while five had their votes rejected. Thus, the no-trust motion fell short of three votes. But in actual fact, the defections from the opposition’s ranks totalled 14.


Initially, 64 senators stood up in a show of support for the no-confidence resolution against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. The heavy thumping of desks appeared to be an open endorsement of the opposition’s move to dethrone Mr. Sanjrani, leading to an easy win for their candidate, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo. But the mood abruptly changed after the results of the secret ballot were announced: the no-trust move had failed and Mr. Sanjrani had maintained his position by three votes.


The final results showed that 14 senators had voted against the decision of their leadership by resorting to what was described as deliberate betrayal – by either wasting their votes or directly voting against the motion. Naturally, the treasury benches rejoiced while the opposition cried foul. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari vowed to hold accountable those within their parties who had “sold their conscience” and “harmed democracy” for their personal interests. Mr. Bizenjo squarely laid the blame for his defeat on the DG ISI, an allegation without proof and denied by the ISPR, the media wing of the army.


In a wider context, the failure of the Senate no-trust move shows how fragile the opposition unity is. This is not the first time that this so-called unity has stood exposed. At the very outset, a potential grand alliance of no less than 11 opposition parties had turned out to be a non-starter when the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had failed to agree on joint candidates to fight Imran Khan and Dr. Arif Alvi for the offices of Prime Minister and President, respectively. On a number of occasions thereafter, the opposition tried to forge unity in their ranks against the government, but to no avail.


Defections are not unknown in our political context. Many a time in the past this has happened. And the gainer has always been the incumbent government. Whatever the reasons — pressure from the powers that be, monetary inducements, a genuine distrust of their own leadership, or even ties with those across the aisle — for the opposition senators to go against their word, “horse-trading” is very much part and parcel of how the game of politics is played here. And it is a game that should be familiar enough to the PPP — that had earlier reposed its trust in Mr Sanjrani during his election as Senate chairman — and the PML-N. Both of them have played such games before.


This time the government and its allies knew how to play the game, and they managed to thwart the opposition challenge. Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal was especially active during his mission to Islamabad where he held meetings with members of the Senate in his bid to convince them to rise above party lines and vote according to their conscience. Sanjrani himself canvassed hard against the no-trust vote. In going about the task what helped him was his excellent performance as the Senate chairman. The impartial and elegant manner in which Sanjrani has conducted the proceedings of the Upper House is something that must have weighed with the opposition members who voted for him.


There is an element of poetic justice inherent in the whole situation. The parties, which are levelling charges of horse trading in the Senate elections, in their own days, indulged in horse trading and refused to reform the system despite persistent demands from the opposition. Rank opportunism is the rule rather than the exception in our politics. This is best illustrated by the composition of the incumbent government in which former Musharraf and PPP loyalists dominate.


As is well-known, the leadership of the country’s two major political parties is family-based and dynastic in nature and they mostly work to advance their selfish goals, ignoring the larger national interests. There is no democracy within the party and the rank and file, who are treated as dumb, driven cattle. No wonder, party men turn coat whenever an opportunity arises. This happened during the Senate no-trust vote.