ALL major parties including the PTI, PML-N and PPP have announced their candidates for the Senate elections scheduled for March 3. Many of the names in the final list are expected ones. The PTI has nominated finance adviser Hafeez Sheikh because he needs to be elected in order to run the ministry with full powers and also preside over the National Finance Commission. Dr Sania Nishtar’s nomination was also to be expected. Prime Minister Imran Khan has praised her work as head of the government’s flagship Ehsaas programme. The PML-N has fielded senior people like Pervaiz Rashid and Mushahidullah Khan though the party’s chairman Raja Zafarul Haq will be retiring and not returning to the upper house. The PPP has also chosen to give tickets to key members like Sherry Rehman and Farhatullah Babar. Prominent among those from the PTI who have not got a Senate ticket are parliamentary affairs’ adviser Babar Awan, commerce adviser Razzaq Dawood and accountability adviser Shahzad Akbar. Given the respective party strengths within the Senate electoral college, and if people vote along party lines, the PTI is expected to emerge as the largest party in the house, followed by PPP and then the PML-N.

The surprise nomination is that of federal minister Faisal Vawda. He won his seat for the National Assembly from Karachi in the 2018 elections but of late has been embroiled in a controversy that threatens to disqualify him. He is accused of not declaring his dual nationality on the day of filing of nomination papers. The Election Commission of Pakistan is hearing the case and Mr Vawda has refused to attend the hearing despite being formally summoned. The fact that the PTI has awarded him a Senate ticket may mean the party is expecting him to be found guilty and de-seated from the National Assembly. In other words, is Mr Vawda possibly being rewarded for deliberately providing wrong information to the ECP? Another surprise was the reward of a PTI ticket in Balochistan to Abdul Qadir who was not even a party member, but an outcry from within the party appears to have forced the leadership to take the ticket back. However, it goes to show that in these elections, all remain willing for compromises.

The Supreme Court is hearing a case on whether the mode of voting in these elections is mandated by the Election Act 2017 or by the Constitution. The decision will determine how the election is held. The opposition believes many PTI legislators will not vote for party candidates in a secret battle and there could be some surprises in store. This may explain why former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been fielded as a joint candidate of the PDM. He is a strong candidate and his victory or defeat would have significant symbolic and substantive political value.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2021

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