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What went wrong for ruling alliance?

Updated March 13, 2018


KRISHNA Kumari, the first Hindu woman to have been elected to the Senate, arrives at the 
Parliament House with her parents on Monday. She belongs to Tharparkar district of Sindh. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
KRISHNA Kumari, the first Hindu woman to have been elected to the Senate, arrives at the Parliament House with her parents on Monday. She belongs to Tharparkar district of Sindh. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) suspects at least seven senators, including a couple of its own, ditched it in the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.

Raja Zafarul Haq, the candidate of the ruling alliance for the chairman, secured 46 votes — the exact total of the members of the four parties which were part of the five-party ruling alliance. This clearly shows that either no one from outside the alliance voted for Mr Haq or some of the members from within the alliance had voted for the opponents in violation of party discipline.

Read: Art of the possible rules Senate

A number of PML-N leaders, including those who remained part of the consultations within the party and in the negotiations with other parties, said they had taken part in the elections with confidence that the ruling alliance would secure 57 votes after being assured of support by their allies and other parties.

“We had calculated 57 votes for us and 46 for the opponents. However, it turned the other way round,” said a senior PML-N leader, who described the day-long development as “depressing”.

Soul-searching within PML-N over who abandoned the party

The five-party ruling alliance presently has 48 members in the 104-member upper house of parliament. With the absence of senator-elect Ishaq Dar, the PML-N had been left with 32 senators, followed by five members each of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the National Party (NP), four members of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and one member of the PML-Functional.

The PML-N leader claimed their vote tally had reached 53 with the support of the two members of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), two senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and a Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) member and a member of the Awami National Party (ANP), which had assured the ruling party of their support.

He admitted that the delay in the announcement of the candidates also played a major role, as it allowed the rumour-mongers to launch propaganda that the PML-N-led alliance was short of numbers. Also, he believed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif should have stayed in the capital to supervise the whole exercise instead of visiting Lahore a day before the election.

The PML-N leader said they had ‘doubts’ that the four-member JUI-F and some Fata members had voted against them. He said the JUI-F was actually interested in getting the office of the deputy chairman but they lost “a toss” against the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), which later nominated Usman Kakar for the slot.

It seemed they lost interest in the whole exercise afterwards, he said, adding that the party might have been contacted by the senators-elect from Balochistan, where the JUI-F had supported a move to dislodge the PML-N government. Absence of three JUI-F senators when their names were called in alphabetical order for voting was surprising for many though they later came to the house and were allowed to vote out of turn.

The PML-N leaders suspect that a minority member of the ruling alliance and a PML-N senator from Balochistan, Kalsoom Parveen, had polled votes for the opposition-backed Sanjrani-Mandviwalla panel. According to them, there is also a possibility that the Fata senators might have voted en bloc for the candidates of the opposition parties. Ms Parveen later told a private TV channel that she had cast her second vote in favour of Mr Mandviwalla for the office of deputy chairman. She has been in the Senate since 2009. Previously associated with the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A), Ms Parveen was awarded ticket by the PML-N leadership amid opposition from some party leaders when she switched her loyalty.

Sources in the PML-N said the leadership had finalised the name of NP president Hasil Bizenjo for the Senate chairman’s office but the decision had to be changed at the last minute due to several reasons. BNP-M chief Akhtar Mengal had categorically told them on Sunday night that his party’s lone senator would not vote for the ruling alliance, if Mr Bizenjo was nominated, the sources said. Similarly, they said, the NP president’s nomination was opposed by the PkMAP.

They said the coalition partners — the PkMAP, the NP and the JUI-F — after allowing the PML-N to nominate its candidate for the chairman’s office, had told Nawaz Sharif that they would decide among themselves the candidature for the office of the deputy chairman.

They said Mr Bizenjo, who was already reluctant to accept the offer, himself withdrew from the race and then the matter between the PkMAP and the JUI-F was decided on a toss.

The sources said a PML-N delegation remained engaged with the JI and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) till late hours. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also accompanied the delegation during a meeting with JI leaders Sirajul Haq and Liaquat Baloch. The sources added that the MQM-P had told the ruling party’s delegation that the MQM-P could not vote for their candidates as they had already made commitment to the other group.

The sources said that a group within the PML-N wanted the leadership to hold a thorough inquiry to find out those who ditched the party and caused embarrassment to it.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2018