Race for top Senate posts wide open

March 07, 2015

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The PPP retains its position as the single largest party in the Senate with 27 members, the PML-N is second with 26.—AFP/File
The PPP retains its position as the single largest party in the Senate with 27 members, the PML-N is second with 26.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The nail-biting Senate election may be over, but the wheeling and dealing is far from over because now the two main parties are trying to figure out who can put together the numbers for getting their chosen one into the top slots — of chairman and deputy.

Except for the four senators of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata), the upper house of parliament is now in place to elect its new chairman and deputy chairman.

It appears that in the numbers game, the PPP retains its position as the single largest party in the Senate with 27 members, while the PML-N is a close second with 26 senators. The Senate at the moment comprises 100 members.

Know more: Lobbying begins with PPP, PML-N vying for Senate chairman slot

However, neither of the parties can clinch the two positions without the help of the other Senate inhabitants. The final result will, in other words, depend on whoever can win over the most allies.

As a result, other parties such as the MQM (eight members), ANP (seven), PML-Q (four) and newcomer PTI, which has returned six senators to the house from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, will be playing a crucial role in deciding who wears the crown.

Apart from the four Fata spots, which are yet to be decided, the Senate has six independent members, inclu­ding the current four senators from the tribal areas.

At a press conference on Friday, PTI chief Imran Khan said that his party wouldn’t support any of the two parties — PML-N, PPP — for the election of the chairman and deputy chairman Senate.

If he sticks to his decision, then the remaining 98 senators (of which Raheela Magsi of PML-N also has to win a court case before she can secure her place and vote in the Senate) will make the choice on March 12.

The possible scenario through which the PML-N (26) can take the Senate chairmanship, is by securing the votes of all independent candidates – the existing six as well as the four still to be elected from Fata; JUI-F (5), National Party (3); Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (3); PML-F (1); BNP-Awami (2); BNP-Mengal (1) and Jamat-i-Islami (1), which will take its tally to 52.

However, this seems unlikely as BNP-A (2) is part of the opposition, and both the Jamat-i-Islami and BNP-M have won elections in KP and Balochistan respectively against PML-N candidates. It is hard to imagine that they will support Nawaz Sharif. Without these seats, the N will only have 48.

At the same time, let’s not forget that the JUI-F has also been meeting Asif Ali Zardari. So wooing him to support the PML-N will be difficult (though the Maulana is known for hanging on to the government of the day). And even if his support is won over, the Fata senators will be a challenge.

With the ongoing controversy surrounding the Fata Senate election and the government’s last minute manoeuvre to control them, it may not be easy to win over the tribal votes.

“There are not many chances that the senators from the tribal region will support the government for the chairmanship of the Senate,” claimed G.G. Jamal, parliamentary leader of Fata lawmakers in the National Assembly.

Mr Jamal has gone to the court against the presidential order.

In other words, the PML-N will have to win many diplomatic battles to get all these small parties on to its side, which may not be easy for a party that finds it easy to bulldoze than negotiate.

This is why the PPP wallahs are looking so happy these days.

With their 27 seats, Asif Ali Zardari’s party also enjoys the support of ANP (7) and PML-Q (4). And if the MQM also throws in its Senate votes in the PPP basket, the latter will enjoy the support of 46 members, just four short of a simple majority (50) (provided that the PTI sticks to its stand of not going with either the PML-N or the PPP.

The four votes that the PPP is short of may not be hard to get. Just think of all those smaller allies that may or may not go the PML-N way.

The PPP is already in touch with leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman. This was what JUI-F spokesperson Jan Achakzai said when asked if Maulana Fazlur Rehman had met PPP’s head, Asif Ali Zardari.

In other words, the government will have to overcome far more obstacles to cobble together a winning combination.

However, nothing can be said with certainty at the moment.

For one, the Fata senators issue has to be resolved.

And most important, the ruling party has always enjoyed an advantage over the opposition in the election of the chairman and deputy chairman in the Senate.

Talking to Dawn, a PPP leader claimed the party would comfortably win elections in the Senate as it had already worked out an agreement with the MQM. Nobody was available from the MQM side to comment on how the party intends to vote.

However, PPP’s vice chairperson, Sherry Rehman, told Dawn: “We will field a consensus candidate for the Senate chairmanship with the ANP, JUI-F, PML-Q, MQM, BNP-A, Fata and others.”

Haji Adeel of the ANP said that his party was on the opposition benches in the Senate and would certainly vote for a candidate who opposed the ruling party. The PML-Q leader, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, told a news channel that the opposition parties were in a majority in the Senate and would elect the chairman.

The president has convened the sitting of the Senate on March 12 to elect its chairman and deputy chairman.

“Whether or not the election of the four senators from Fata is completed by then, the Senate has to choose its chairmen on March 12, as March 11 is the last day of the retiring senators,” former Senate secretary Iftikharullah Babar told Dawn.

However, he agreed that questions would be raised if the present four Fata senators didn’t participate in the election, as the region as a whole made a separate entity in the Senate.

But the race will not be over till the last vote is cast, so unpredictable are the choices our parties can make in the upper house of parliament.

Meanwhile, Mr Zardari hosted a dinner for the retiring senators of the PPP and held discussions with party leaders about the strategy for the election of the chairperson and deputy chairperson.

Published in Dawn March 7th , 2015

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