The Senate Elections 2018: The number game and beyond

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By Ali Jafri

LAHORE: The Senate Elections 2018 were arguably one of the most, if not the most, momentous senate elections in the history of Pakistan.

In its July 28, 2017 decision in the Panama Papers case, the Supreme Court declared Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif disqualified and unfit to hold the office of the Prime Minister.

With its leadership removed from premiership, the PML-N accused the ‘powers that be’ for plotting a grand design to exclude them in General Elections 2018. Therefore capitalizing on its current electoral strength in the National Assembly (the Lower House), it was crucial for PML-N to get a grip on the Senate to block, what they might deem, as vindictive legislation.

The Senate, or the Upper House of Parliament possesses remarkable significance in the process of legislation and this is the main reason why the mainstream parties put maximum weight to attain its control. To have a hold of the Upper House means a proper check on the process of legislation even if the party with majority here is in minority in the Lower House, also called the National Assembly.

However, despite with major chunk of seats in the Senate PML-N received a severe setback in the Upper House of Parliament where it has suffered a defeat in the hands of opposition alliance chiefly comprising Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The opposition alliance candidate Senator Sadiq Sanjrani was elected as Chairman Senate while Senator Saleem Mandviwalla of the opposition alliance was elected as the Deputy Chairman on March 12.

“Considering the rule book, the Senate elections did not violate any rules or procedures laid out in the Constitution or the Election Commission so it can be termed as a transparent election. However, the shifting, chopping and shopping of first the MPAs and then the senators as alleged by almost all parties hints at a much bigger problem. I believe as the intuitions of this nascent democracy mature, we might see less of such objections”, said noted political analyst and Professor of Political Science Dr Farooq Hasnat while talking to Data Stories.

Pakistan a Bicameral Democracy

Pakistan is a Bicameral Democracy which means that there are two bodies of political representatives. The Lower House, called the National Assembly, is directly elected by the population through General Elections while the Upper House, the Senate, is elected by the members of the provincial and national assemblies. Thus Parliament of Pakistan consists of President of the country and the two Houses—the National Assembly and the Senate.

Unlike popular representation in the National Assembly, the Senate gives equal representation to all the federating units. Equal provincial membership in the Senate, thus, balances the provincial inequality in the National Assembly and dispels doubts and apprehension, if any, regarding deprivation and exploitation.

The Senate of Pakistan consists of 104 members and it is not subject to dissolution like the National Assembly and the term of its members is six years. Half of the Senate members retire after every three years and new ones are elected to replace them.

Meanwhile, in a decision reviewing the Act passed by the parliament to allow Nawaz to hold party presidency on 21st February this year, the Supreme Court also deposed Nawaz Sharif off of as the PM-N’s President while terming all of his actions null and void, including the issuance of party tickets to Senate candidates. This put the PML-N in an altogether different situation.

The ruling party had suffered a shock a couple of months before the elections when in January the PML-N Chief Minister in Balochistan Sanaullah Zehri lost control of the provincial assembly majority. Despite the new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan’s exhaustive efforts, Mr Zehri had to resign from his position to avoid the embarrassment of being ousted by a no-confidence vote. This blurred the chances of PML-N winning chunk of the seats in Senate Elections from Balochistan.

“This is a classic example of disgracement of people’s mandate and representation through money and manipulation. This is why the sanctity of vote narrative of Nawaz Sharif resonated with people from every province”, PML-N stalwart Senator Pervez Rashid told Data Stories when asked to comment on the Balochistan-shuffle.

Tough time for PML-N

With the party ticket eliminated, the 21 PML-N candidates were to contest as Independent. This, in theory, dealt a double hit to the PML-N camp. Firstly, it made the contesting candidates vulnerable to possible betrayal or exploitation post victory. On the other hand, in case the PML-N MPAs and MNAs chose to vote against party lines, they wouldn’t be held to the code of conduct by the Election Commission under Article 63A of the 18th Amendment. This amendment gives any Political Party Leader to file a complaint of floor crossing in case their party parliamentarians vote against the party discipline. However, because the PML-N MPAs and MNAs were voting for independent candidates not any party nominees; they would be free from these legal bounds.

Senate polls on Punjab seats at Punjab Assembly on March 3, 2018.–DS photos

Before 2018

Before 2018 Senate Elections, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the major party in the upper house with 27 seats and its outgoing senator were 18. For these elections the party fielded 17 candidates out of which 12 were from Sindh province.

On the other hand Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had 26 senators pre-2018, while its nine members were to retire. The incumbent ruling party nominated 21 candidates for the election, twelve out of which were from Punjab, aiming to get the majority in the upper house as well.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had only one outgoing senator out of its seven sitting senators, while they fielded 13 for this term.

The PML-N was confident that it would sweep the Senate from Punjab where they had 311 out of the 371 member house. The opposition alliance had the opportunity of securing a seat easily. However, the equation looked perfect for PMLN as the opposition alliance of PMLQ, PTI and PPP could not come to an agreement of a joint candidate.

The Election Day

On the 3rd of March, all four provincial Assemblies, the National Assembly and members from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) voted for the Senate elections. There were no complaints regarding any malpractices or rigging leveled by any political party.

According to the official results, PML-N backed candidates secured 15 seats. These included 11 from Punjab, two from Islamabad and two from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) capitalized big time over the fractures in Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and won 10 out of the 12 seats from Sindh, while bagging two more from KPK. PTI won 6 seats—five of them from its majority province KPK and one from Punjab.

“The victory of Chaudhry Sarwar is a result of corrupt artistry of the highest order, we shall investigate it and expose it”, claimed Senator and Nawaz Sharif’s closest aide Asif Kirmani while talking to Data Stories after the results were announced. He went on to say that the culture of using money to trample people’s mandate has angered the masses which is why they will erode all such forces in 2018 General Elections.

However, Punjab Opposition Leader Mian Mehmood ur Rasheed of PTI while commenting on this criticism said, “PML-N is a repeat offender when it comes to money games in politics therefore they see everything from the same lens. PTI victory came from the legit voice of the representatives and the PML-N members are crying foul out of embarrassment because they had dominating majority in the house”.

“The way this election has unveiled the undemocratic behaviors in our democratic parties and the institutions themselves, is disappointing to say the least. The Senate is supposed to be an unbiased representation of all provinces in reflection of their legislative assemblies, is that what it had turned out to be? It is just striking how we as a nation, refuse to learn from our mistakes and move towards an inherently democratic institutionalization”, commented Mohammad Tahseen, Political Analyst and Executive Director of the South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK).

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