Balochistan Senator Sadiq Sanjrani — elected to Senate as an independent in the March 3 election — was sworn in as Senate Chairman Monday evening after he secured 57 votes out of the total 103 cast for the seat, defeating the PML-N's Raja Zafarul Haq, who managed only 46.
His election as the first-ever Senate chairman from Balochistan marked the day's second historic moment. The first had been the swearing in of Senator Krishna Kohli earlier in the day.
Polling had taken place via secret ballot. The counting was held shortly after the final vote was cast, with a nominee of each candidate overseeing the process. The margin of victory was a surprise to many, with observers having predicted a much closer race than an 11-vote gap.
The Senate's decorum was interrupted briefly as the counting for the Senate chairman's election wound to a close, with observers in the galleries erupting in cheers for PPP Chairman Asif Ali Zardari — crediting him with engineering Sanjrani's victory — as soon as Sanjrani crossed the 52-vote mark.
A brief tussle also erupted between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi's son, Abdullah Abbasi, and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's Engineer Hamidul Haq as soon as the new chairman was announced. Both were removed from parliament shortly thereafter.
Promptly after being sworn in, Sanjrani began proceedings for the election of the deputy chairman of the Upper House.
The election for the deputy chairman handed the opposition its second victory for the day, with PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwalla elected to the seat with 54 votes against the PML-N backed Usman Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, who secured 44 votes. The MQM's five senators abstained from the deputy chairman's election.
The announcement of the deputy chairman's election was similarly preceded by jeering from ruling party representatives and cheers from PPP workers.
Opposition vs PML-N
Senator Sadiq Sanjrani had been backed by the joint opposition, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and independents from Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). PML-N veteran Raja Zafarul Haq, on the other hand, had been nominated by the ruling party and supported by its coalition partners.
The PPP's Saleem Mandviwalla and Pakhtukhwa Milli Awami Party's (PkMAP) Usman Khan Kakar were the nominees fielded by the joint opposition and ruling party's bloc respectively for the post of deputy chairman.
The nomination papers of all four candidates had been accepted earlier today.
In last minute wheelings and dealings for the top posts in the upper house, eight Fata members had announced their support for Sanjrani, while the MQM-Ps' Bahadurabad group said it would not support Saleem Mandviwalla for the post of deputy chairman.
Explaining his party's stance after a meeting with Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo and Sanjrani, MQM-P Senator Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said: "It will not be possible for us to vote for the PPP [deputy chairman] candidate [Saleem Mandviwalla]" due to the PPP government's performance in Sindh.
Prior to the polling, Sanjrani had appeared confident of victory and claimed to enjoy the support of over 70 members of the house, hinting at defections from the PML-N and its allies.
However, even without defections, Sanjrani had remained in a strong position with support from the PPP [20 votes], PTI [12 votes], Fata independents [8 votes], Balochistan independents [6 votes] and MQM-P [5 votes].
The PML-N, which appeared to be floundering without the backing of other major players in politics, had held meetings with allies today to finalise their nominees for the top posts after Sanjrani emerged as the joint opposition's top contender on Sunday.
During a meeting at PML-N leader Raheel Muneer's residence in Islamabad earlier today, the ruling party and its allies had decided on Raja Zafarul Haq as their pick for chairman and Kakar for deputy chairman, according to Senator Mushahidullah.
In addition to the PkMAP, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), National Party, Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had all thrown their weight behind the PML-N backed candidates.
ANP Senator Sitara Ayaz said its sole vote would go to the ruling coalition's candidates as the PPP had refused to field Raza Rabbani as its candidate for the slot of chairman.
51 new senators take oath
Earlier in the day, 51 newly elected senators took oath in a ceremony held in Islamabad. Presiding Officer Yaqoob Nasar administered the oath for the senators elected via polls held on March 3. Senators were then invited to sign the member rolls.
Only Ishaq Dar did not take the oath as he is undergoing 'medical treatment' in London. His election as a senator is being contested in the apex court.
Speaking to the media, outgoing chairman Raza Rabbani had dispelled the impression of disagreements within the PPP and said that he stands with his party.
He was answering a question regarding his reaction to PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari's comments casting doubts over the three-year stint of the party stalwart as the house's custodian and him siding with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. "Everyone has a right to their opinion," Rabbani responded.
PPP Senator Krishna Kohli, the first Thari Hindu woman to be elected to the house, had arrived along with her family in traditional Thari attire. She had expressed her desire to work on healthcare and water-related issues, which she said were the the biggest problems faced by women in Tharparkar.
While talking to DawnNewsTV, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had accepted that it was going to be close race but expressed satisfaction "because puppets of the non-democratic forces have been exposed."
He accused Asif Zardari and Imran Khan of being "pawns of the establishment" and claimed their candidates were still a couple of votes behind the PML-N coalition's candidates.
"This is a victory for democratic forces," Sanaullah had said.
Explaining Nawaz Sharif's proposal for the candidacy of PPP's Raza Rabbani, he said that the party knew it would never happen as "the nomination was never in the hands of Zardari, and forces he [Zardari] has sold himself to would never allow [Rabbani's candidacy]."
With additional reporting by Javed Hussain.