FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 01

The Senate upset

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani survived a no-trust motion after 14 members of the opposition either voted against their own resolution or deliberately wasted their votes. The fiasco has created rifts among the opposition and significantly weakened it against the government which has gained immensely and become stronger.


The opposition accused the government of buying loyalties of its members. The losing candidate, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, even accused some national institutions of interfering in the vote to ensure his defeat. But it was without any substance or evidence. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two main opposition parties, accused each other of deliberately siding with the government to extract favours for their leaders. According to the opposition’s estimates, at least nine senators of the PML-N, three of the PPP and two of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who was desperate to dislodge the Senate chairman, voted against their own parties.


Sixty-four members of the opposition rose in their seats to approve the motion seeking permission to move the no-trust motion against Sanjrani submitted by leader of the opposition in the house, Raja Zafarul Haq. However, when it came to secret balloting, only 50 of the opposition senators voted in favour of the resolution. Five votes were declared void which, had been wrongly stamped on purpose. Four of them bore stamps in both boxes — one in favour of and the other against the resolution. It was still a close call as the opposition merely fell short of three votes to send Sadiq Sanjrani packing. In all 100 out of the 103 members attended the session and cast their votes. Chaudhry Tanvir of the PML-N, accused of holding 600,000 kanals of land in the name of his servants, was among the three absentees, who included Sirajul Haq and Mushtaq Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami, which had already announced its decision to abstain.

Later, leader of the house in the Senate, Syed Shibli Faraz, moved a motion seeking permission to move a no-confidence resolution against Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala. The motion was carried as 34 members voted in its favour by rising in their seats. In a strategic move, the opposition decided to stay away from voting. Thirty-two votes were polled in favour of the resolution which was eventually rejected.


After the upset, opposition leaders vowed to expose the elements responsible for the failure. Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari held a meeting to discuss what had gone wrong and how to proceed further. Talking to reporters, Bilawal Bhutto said action would be taken against the senators who had defied the party policy and frustrated the move. “We will look into our party to see which of our members came under pressure or sold their conscience. Some petty senators stabbed their parties in the back, we will take them to task,” he remarked. Shahbaz Sharif said the joint opposition would work to identify those who had sold their conscience and expose them. He said the individuals had weakened democracy and the parliamentary system.


Though both parties have formed their fact-finding committees to identify the defectors and suggest a punitive action against them, yet the members of the committees have little hope for success. It is said the mistrust between the two parties existed from the day they had submitted the no-trust motion. In one of the meetings, a PML-N senator sought clarification from PPP leaders over a reported meeting between former President Asif Zardari, who is in National Accountability Bureau (NAB) custody, and a top property tycoon a night before the voting to discuss as to how the move could be thwarted. The PPP leaders, however, had categorically refuted the reports. Similarly, after several complaints against the PML-N senators for not turning up in the opposition meetings, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate, Sherry Rehman, approached Shahbaz Sharif through former Speaker Ayaz Sadiq to ensure their attendance. She also criticised PML-N’s Khawaja Asif over his remarks on a TV channel against PPP senators holding them responsible for the debacle.


In fact, the PML-N expected at least four of its senators to vote against the motion. The PPP was also aware of meetings of its senators with people from the government. People in both parties believe the defectors had the backing of their respective leadership. The third opposition party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), which was overly keen for the success of the no-trust move, is demoralised. Its chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has not spoken a word on the debacle due to frustration.


The Senate fiasco has caused serious distrust between the two main opposition parties, with leaders from both PPP and PML-N suspecting each other of foul play. They accused each other of playing a “dirty game” during the secret vote. PML-N’s Khawaja Asif and PPP’s Sherry Rehman even made their “distrust” public by issuing statements accusing each other of damaging the opposition’s unity. Yet the two parties have a unanimous view that there is a need for changing the rules of no-trust resolution against the Senate chairman or deputy chairman. They also hoped that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would back them as it was part of its manifesto.


Morally and theoretically, the opposition should have won the Senate motion. It would not have made much difference for the government or the opposition. Before analyzing the causes of the failure of the no-trust motion and playing the blame game, first the circumstances under which Sadiq Sanjrani was elected the Senate chairman must be considered. The opposition had voted in his favour because it aimed to gain favours for their leaders, who are facing corruption charges. The no-trust motion was moved in frustration after failure to get relief. However, the failure of the no-confidence move appears to be another request for relief.