In a shock victory for the government and its allied parties, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Thursday survived a motion of no-confidence pushed by the opposition.
Mere hours before the final result, the resolution to move a no-confidence vote against Sanjrani had been passed comfortably by opposition senators, with 64 voting in its favour.
Needing only 53 of the 64 senators' votes to send Sanjrani packing, the opposition instead fell three short when the results of the secret ballot were announced.
The final vote count was 50 votes in favour of the motion, five votes rejected, and 45 cast against.
Having fallen short of a simple majority of the house, the motion was dismissed.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan promptly hailed the result as "the victory of Pakistan's narrative".
Talking to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Sanjrani said that he was "thankful to friends and companions who considered me a better" chairman.
"I don't know which of the 14 senators [who were part of the opposition] voted in my favour."
"This matter should end here," he said, adding that the results were "not anyone's victory or defeat".
Later, Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala also survived the no-confidence motion moved against him by the government due to an opposition walkout.
According to initial reports, only 32 votes could be cast in favour of the no-confidence motion. The government had required at least 53. The opposition abstained from the vote, leaving the house before its members could cast their vote.
This is the first time the upper house of parliament has tabled no-confidence motions against its chairman and deputy chairman. The motion against Sanjrani was submitted by opposition members last month. A similar motion was submitted by the government senators against Senate Deputy Chairman Mandviwala in a tit-for-tat move.
The opposition has a total of 67 members. PML-N's Chaudhry Tanvir, who has reportedly fallen ill, was not in attendance. Out of the remaining 66 senators, two belong to the Jamaat-i-Islami, which decided to abstain from the proceedings.
The government and its allies constituted the remaining 36 members, all of whom were present today.
Senator Javed Abbasi was appointed the polling agent on behalf of the opposition, while Senator Nauman Wazir was appointed on behalf of the government.
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At the beginning of the session, Barrister Saif directed senators who were in favour of the no-confidence resolution against Sanjrani tabled by the opposition to stand. About 64 senators had stood up in support.
Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq had then moved the resolution but said that the opposition will not make any speeches even though the rules allow a debate.
PTI Senator Shibli Faraz had also waived his right to make a speech, saying that the government wishes for the motion to be put directly to the vote.
Following these announcements, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif — who was chairing today's session — read out the rules for voting on the resolution. He said that the doors of the hall will remain closed as long as voting is underway.
The results of the final count of the vote, conducted through a secret ballot, dealt a major blow to the opposition's claims of having enough support.
The Senate secretariat had sent a message to all the members yesterday, detailing the procedure for voting under Rule 12(10) of the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Senate, 2012.
Senators were informed that they would move motions seeking leave to move resolutions for removal of the chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, and if leave is granted the resolutions will be voted upon.
It said that voting on the resolution(s) shall be secret and each member will have one vote only.
The members were also told that they would not be allowed to carry mobile phones and cameras inside the polling booth. Disclosing the ballot paper or taking its photograph is strictly prohibited.
Rule 12(9) says the Senate shall not be adjourned until the motion for leave is disposed of or, if leave is granted, the resolution has been voted upon.
Rule 12(12) reads: “The Chairman or, as the case may be, Deputy Chairman, shall stand removed from his office on the resolution being passed by a majority of the total membership of the Senate.”
The resolution — which demanded the removal of the Senate chairman under Rule 12 (Removal of Chairman or Deputy Chairman) of the Rules of Procedure in Conduct of Business in the Senate — was drawn up by PPP's Sherry Rehman and PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi and signed by members of the opposition. It was submitted last month, along with a requisition asking for a session to be called so that the resolution can be moved in the Senate.
The move was meant to be a first step towards mounting pressure on the PTI-led coalition government.
In a tit-for-tat move, government senators had also submitted a similar resolution against the deputy chairman of the upper house last month.
The joint opposition had named Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, president of the National Party (NP), as its candidate for the position of Senate chairman.
Bizenjo, who hails from Balochistan, was confident that he will "get a lot of votes" from the province. Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said that he had "won the seat the day my name was put forward" for the position.
He had also advised Sanjrani to resign voluntarily from his position.
Sanjrani, on the other hand, had refused to step down and said that he was ready to fight the resolution against him.
Meanwhile, the government had insisted that the opposition's move would fail as many opposition senators would vote for Sanjrani “in line with their conscience”.
Earlier today, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry had declared that the move "will neither affect the government nor the prime minister".
"[The opposition's move] will only affect the Senate where Sadiq Sanjrani had maintained a balance. Whether the no-confidence motion succeeds or fails, this balance will be disturbed," he tweeted.