Senate election and its set of controversies

Published March 6, 2015
Police personnel stand near DSNG vehicles outside Parliament House on Thursday where polling for the Senate elections was held. —INP
Police personnel stand near DSNG vehicles outside Parliament House on Thursday where polling for the Senate elections was held. —INP

ISLAMABAD: The sky over Islamabad was overcast and the parliament was not meeting for its usual business of legislation and debate and yet politicking was at its Byzantine best.

Votes were to be cast for the Senate seats and most inhabitants of the parliament house put in an appearance.

As it is, the election had become quite controversial with both the PML-N and the PTI having kicked up a fuss over horse trading in the run up to D-day. It was all that had been discussed in the capital for over a week now and now the final act was to take place.

Despite all the hectic activity in Islamabad where the PPP had been gathered for a few days and the N ministers were running back and forth between Constitution Avenue and the provincial capitals, the Parliament House presented a quiet look on Thursday. The MNAs came individually to cast their votes.

Each one of them was accosted by the waiting television cameras and reporters but the rains ensured that few people dawdled outside.

A quick soundbite and a smile for the camera was all they managed.

But inside, whoever found the time to chat – be it a politician or a journalist who was lurking around for a story or a scoop – the conversation was the same.

Who may vote against his or her own party, who had accepted money and how much and who will bag the Senate crowns were the subjects on everyone’s lips.

But the PML-N’s late Wednesday night surprise of a president’s order which made drastic changes to the voting rights of the Fata MNAs was the most hotly discussed.

The presidential order had clearly hit the house members hard, especially the members of the National Assembly from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata). This was obvious on Thursday morning at the parliament building.

No one knew what was happening and how the election for the Fata members was now going to be conducted.

This however was not the only surprise awaiting those who made it to the Parliament House on the rainy and cold Thursday.

The journalists were surprised to find out that the press gallery had been shut and was out of bounds. No media people were allowed to witness the polling. Because of the seat adjustment, there had been no polling for the last two Senate elections but before then the journalists had always crowded into the gallery to witness the polling.

“I don’t know what the government is trying to hide by closing the press gallery. I have never been turned away before on an election day,” said one as he walked to the car park.

But the media’s woes were nothing compared to the anger and frustration of the Fata MNAs whose election was virtually ‘stolen’ from them.

But perhaps, the ECP officials there presented the sorriest sight.

Having been caught off guard by the government’s desperate maneuver, they epitomised confusion.

Their cluelessness was evident from the fact that they had put up instructions for the Fata MNAs which described the old voting system.

Some of them then ran off to the Commission for fresh and more current orders leaving their polling material behind.

As confusion reigned over the Fata vote, politicians turned to the waiting cameras outside to hold forth, their views dictated by their political alliance. While the government defended the order, others ripped the N to shreds.

A startled Syed Ghazi Gulab Jamal, parliamentary leader for the Fata MNAs in the National Assembly, thundered that the “the government has stolen our constitutional right”.

He asked why the MPA from the Punjab assembly was allowed to vote for 11 senators “while we, from Fata, will only get to vote for one,” as he rushed off to challenge the decision at the court and at the ECP.

A senior journalist who watched a few politicians lash out at the government commented: “This latest move has confirmed the perception that the ruling PML-N leadership has mastered the art of damaging itself.”

But even a few PML-N backbenchers were not averse to passing a snide remark or two when grilled about their government.

“The president spent the day in Lahore watching the Horse and Cattle show, and the prime minister is in Saudi Arabia for an official visit, while the rest of the country grapples with an election. This can only happen in a PML-N government,” commented a treasury bench member sardonically.

And in the midst of all this confusion, the PPP managed to recapture the high moral ground after days of allegations that it was at the forefront of those doing horse trading.

Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah was smug in his assessment that by issuing the presidential order, the government had accepted its failure.

The PML-N, on the other hand, didn’t bother to put a spin on its decision. It accepted that it had no other option; the federal minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Barjees Tahir, admitted that having exhausted all the available options to prevent horse-trading, the government had to swallow this bitter pill of a presidential order.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2015

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