ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties that have already moved a no-confidence mot­ion against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani nominated National Party (NP) chief Hasil Bizenjo as their joint candidate for the key parliamentary office on Thursday.

In a related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan met the Senate chairman and extended support to him on behalf of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its allies during the crucial vote on the no-trust motion that had been submitted by the opposition as a first step towards mounting pressure on the ruling coalition before launching a full-fledged anti-government campaign.

Mr Bizenjo’s nomination was announced by Akram Durrani of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) during a brief chat with reporters after presiding over a meeting of the opposition’s Rehbar Committee as its convener.

PM throws his weight behind Sanjrani

The meeting was attended by senior members of the opposition parties, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Farhatullah Babar and Nayyar Bukhari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Speaking on the occasion, Ahsan Iqbal said PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif had endorsed Mr Bizenjo’s nomination as the opposition candidate for Senate chairmanship. Mr Iqbal alleged that the government was trying to block the democratic process through undemocratic means. The opposition would utilise all legal and constitutional means to foil the government’s move to delay the Senate session for which the opposition had already submitted a requisition, he added.

Talking to reporters after his nomination, Mr Bizenjo thanked the opposition for reposing confidence in him and expressed the hope that members from his native province, Baloch­istan, would vote for him during secret ballot for the post of Senate chairman.

Asked if he would seek vote from the treasury members also, he said those who contested elections always knocked at every door even if they knew that they would not get a vote from there.

Sources in the opposition said being the single largest party in the Senate, it was the right of the PML-N to nominate the candidate but the decision to nominate Mr Bizenjo had been made to counter the government’s narrative that the opposition was removing a Senate chairman who belonged to a neglected and backward province.

The sources said another reason for Mr Bizenjo’s nomination was that the PPP and the PML-N did not want to make any change in the present set-up in the National Assembly and the Senate. Currently the office of the opposition leader in the National Assembly is with the PML-N and the deputy chairman of the Senate belongs to the PPP.

The opposition had made the decision to remove the Senate chairman at a multi-party conference (MPC) held in Islamabad on June 26 to discuss the options of launching a full-fledged anti-government movement in the wake of current economic crisis and alleged political victimisation of the opposition leaders.

Speaking at a press conference after submission of the no-trust motion, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had asked Mr Sanjrani to voluntarily resign in the larger interest of democracy and the parliament.

He had said that Mr Sanjrani had been elected as a result of the opposition’s consensus that emerged last year when the PML-N was a ruling party and the PPP was sitting on the opposition benches with the PTI, which was now in power. Now, he had said, again the opposition had reached a consensus to remove the Senate chairman, adding that they had no personal issues with Mr Sanjrani and had respect for him.

“But as a matter of principle, those who had brought you [Sanjrani] to the office now intend to remove you. It is your moral obligation to resign,” the PPP chairman had said.

On the other hand, Mr Sanjrani had declared that he would not step down and would fight till the end.

In an informal chat with reporters, he had said that moving a no-confidence motion was a democratic right of the opposition and he had no reservations about it.

Sanjrani-PM meeting

Meanwhile, the Senate chairman called on Prime Minister Khan and discussed the plan to counter the opposition’s move to remove him from the office.

Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz and Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati were also present in the meeting.

Later talking to Dawn, Mr Faraz quoted the prime minister as having said the PTI and its allies would support Mr Sanjrani. Mr Faraz said the prime minister had advised Mr Sanjrani to also use his personal contacts and reach out to the Senate members.

He said the prime minister had criticised the opposition’s “ill-intended move” and said if this practice was allowed to continue then the office of Senate chairman would become a joke.

The PTI leader said the Senate was a symbol of continuity and stability, but the opposition wanted to “disturb” the house.

Replying to a question, he ruled out the possibility of Mr Sanjrani’s resignation before the vote, saying the Senate chairman had stated that he would fight even if he had the support of only one member.

In response to another question, Mr Faraz said the government would not use any influence or indulge in any type of horse trading. However, he expressed the hope that the members would vote according to their conscience and keeping in mind that Mr Sanjrani had run the house impartially.

Party position

The opposition requires 53 votes in the 104-member house to get the no-trust resolution passed. Given the party position, the opposition should face no difficulty in getting Mr Sanjrani removed from the office as it enjoys the support of 67 members against 36 members on the treasury benches.

Presently, the Senate comprises 103 members as self-exiled former finance minister Ishaq Dar of the PML-N has not yet taken oath as senator.

The PML-N with 30 senators and the PPP with 20 members are the two largest parties in the opposition alliance. An independent senator from Balochistan, Yousuf Badini, is also supporting the PPP.

Besides them, the NP with five senators, JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party with four members each, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) with two members, including its chief Sirajul Haq, and Awami National Party with one member are the other opposition parties.

However, the JI has so far not declared whether it would support Mr Sanjrani or the opposition. The JI had also not participated in the opposition’s MPC held last month.

The ruling coalition comprises the PTI (14 seats), Balochistan Awami Party (two), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (five) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal and PML-F (one member each), besides 13 independents, including seven from erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas and six from Balochistan.

Mr Sanjrani had become Senate chairman in March last year by defeating the PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq with 57-46 vote. However, his tally included 20 votes from the PPP.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019