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ISLAMABAD: The prevailing crisis in Balochistan, created by the no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, will have no impact on the coming Senate elections in March if it remains limited to the province itself.

During background interviews, politicians, lawyers and constitutional experts were found unanimous in their views that even if the Balochistan Assembly is dissolved before March, it will have no effect on the Senate polls as long as the remaining four electorates (three provincial assemblies and National Assembly) remain intact.

However, they believe that the absence of 11 senators from Balochistan in the 104-member house can affect the outcome of election of chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate and that too in case of a close fight.

They are of the view that a real crisis can be created only if after dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) also dissolve the assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa, respectively, sacrificing their governments a few months before the completion of their tenure.

Even if provincial assembly is dissolved, remaining four electorates will elect senators, experts believe

Interestingly, the country’s Constitution is silent on the issue perhaps because the makers of the first basic document in 1973 had not foreseen any such situation.

The political crisis in Balochistan that unfolded last week after some legislators submitted a no-trust motion against CM Zehri has deepened to such an extent that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and its allies in Islamabad now believe that it will impact not only the Senate elections but also the current set-up as they feel that the crisis in the province might extend to KP and Sindh — where the PTI and the PPP, respectively, are at the helm — to stop the coming elections for the upper house of parliament.

Deputy Chairman of the Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri while talking to reporters in Islamabad on Friday had alleged that the “troika” of Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Allama Tahirul Qadri wanted to topple the government before March.

Similarly, Interior Minis­ter Ahsan Iqbal had vaguely referred to “hidden forces” for “creating a situation” in the country in which no one was sure whether the Senate election would be held in March or not.

Former chairman of the Senate Nayyar Hussain Bokhari said there was no question of putting off elections of the upper house if one electoral college was missing as other provinces could not be deprived of their right of electing their representatives for the upper house only because of the crisis in one province.

He said as the members of the National Assembly elected the senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Islamabad, therefore, it could be said that out of six units represented in the Senate, five would be present even if the Balochistan Assembly faced dissolution as a result of the prevailing crisis.

Mr Bokhari, who is also the secretary general of the PPP, said since Balochistan would not be completely wiped out from the Senate as its 12 members, out of 23, would be present in March, elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman would be considered “legitimised”. He was, however, of the view that in case of a close fight for the offices, the losing candidates could challenge the election before the court.

The former Senate chairman said one seat of the National Assembly from Fata had been lying vacant since 2013, but it did not mean that the whole assembly would stop functioning.

Mudassir Rizvi of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), when contacted, said he did not foresee any crisis in the wake of no-confidence motion against the Balochistan CM. He said after the passage of the 18th Constitution Amendment, the process of dissolution of a provincial assembly had become complicated.

Mr Rizvi said if the vote of no-confidence against Mr Zehri succeeded, then the MPAs would be asked to elect a new chief minister. And if the new chief minister would desire to dissolve the assembly, he would have to consult the leader of the opposition for appointment of caretaker set-up.

He, however, said a crisis-like situation could be created even without dissolution of the provincial assembly if a significant number of MPAs from Balochistan submitted resignations. In that situation, he said, the technical formula under which the quota of votes was reserved for election of a senator could be affected. He said since the constitution was silent in this regard, the matter could be referred either to the court or the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The Senate comprises 104 members — 23 each from the four federating units, eight from Fata, and four from Islamabad.

The 23 seats allocated to a province comprise 14 general seats, four reserved for women, four for technocrats and one for minority member.

The term of a senator is spread over six years, but 50 per cent of the total members retire after every three years and then elections are held for new senators. Elections to fill the seats allocated to each province are held in accordance with the “system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote”.

Fata senators are elected by members of National Assembly from the area whereas four senators on the reserved seats from Islamabad are elected by the members of the National Assembly.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018