Litmus test for opposition

Updated 01 Aug 2019


THE opposition in the Senate is gearing up to vote on a no-trust motion against the chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, after a request was submitted to the Senate secretariat this week.

Read: First-ever no-trust motion against Senate chair tabled

Although PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has asked that he step down voluntarily, Mr Sanjrani has refused to oblige and said that while the no-confidence move is the democratic right of the senators, he will continue to do his job.

The opposition requires 53 votes to have the no-trust resolution passed. With 66 members in the opposition-dominated house, the strength of the PML-N and the PPP is 50, with 30 and 20 senators respectively.

An independent member of the upper house, Mr Sanjrani was elected chairman of the Senate on March 12, 2018, after obtaining 57 votes against 46 secured by his opponent at the time, Senator Raja Zafarul Haq of the PML-N. The seat had fallen vacant after the completion of the term of the PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani in March 2018.

The opposition in the Senate has every right to exercise their democratic authority and vote against Mr Sanjrani — much like they voted to elect him last year.

At the time of his election, Mr Sanjrani’s victory was billed by the PPP and PTI as a happily-ever-after story; they touted his election as a triumph for the representation of Balochistan.

It is important to recall, however, the events that led up to his rise in the upper house — a plan that was devised through political engineering and alliance building outside the Senate to weaken the PML-N government.

But as governments — and priorities — change, the opposition now, in the words of Mr Bhutto-Zardari, wishes to remove the chairman whom they brought in. While the little-known Mr Sanjrani appeared out of nowhere as the consensus candidate for the PTI and PPP, the opposition now wants to exercise its power to stick a thorn in the side of the incumbent government.

Mr Sanjrani’s election, which will take place through a secret ballot, will be a litmus test for the unity of the opposition. Thus far, the opposition has expressed solidarity through its meetings but its strategy has been erratic and lacks cohesion.

Opposition parties have time and again announced the launch of their anti-government movement, and perhaps the removal of a Senate chairman of the PTI’s liking will be their first joint effort to exert control.

But what happens in secret balloting can only be known after the result of the election — the exercise might turn out to be similar to the blow dealt to the PML-N in the previous government when there were hints of defections from the party. Ahead of the vote to remove Mr Sanjrani, two senators from the PPP and PML-N have already expressed their reservations about not being consulted on the no-trust motion.

The ballot will determine how formidable — or fragile — the opposition is.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019