170 file papers amid ambiguity over voting in Senate polls

Published February 16, 2021
A total of 170 candidates have filed nomination papers all over the country for 48 seats of the upper house of parliament. — Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File
A total of 170 candidates have filed nomination papers all over the country for 48 seats of the upper house of parliament. — Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File

• 44 PTI members among 70 candidates who submit nominations on last day • Stage set for one-on-one contest between Yousuf Raza Gilani, Hafeez Shaikh • ECP to begin scrutiny tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: As uncertainty still looms over the method to be adopted for voting in the March 3 Senate polls and with political parties busy in finalising their nominees, a total of 170 candidates have filed nomination papers all over the country for 48 seats of the upper house of parliament, reveals the data released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

As many as 70 candidates, including 44 from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), filed their nomination papers on Monday — the last date for submission of the papers according to the amended election schedule announced by the ECP in a controversial manner.

Filing of the papers by such a large number of candidates belonging to the ruling PTI on the last day strengthens the reports that the party is in a fix over finalising its candidates due to rifts within its ranks, almost in all the provinces, particularly in Sindh. All the 12 PTI candidates from Sindh, including the two earlier approved candidates, Faisal Vawda and Saifullah Abro, submitted their papers on the last day.

Out of 170 candidates, there are only 11 independents — nine from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two from Balochistan. The highest number of 51 candidates filed nominations from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by 41 from Balochistan, 39 from Sindh, 29 from Punjab and 10 from Islamabad. Of them, 87 have filed papers for 29 general seats, 33 for eight seats reserved for technocrats, 40 for nine reserved seats for women, and 10 are vying for two seats of minorities from Balochistan and KP.

According to the amended election schedule, the names of nominated candidates will be published on Tuesday (today) and the scrutiny of nomination papers will take place on Feb 17 and 18. Appeals against acceptance or rejection of nomination papers will be filed on Feb 19 and 20 and will be decided on Feb 22 and 23. A revised list of candidates will be published on Feb 24 whereas Feb 25 has been set as the last date for withdrawal of candidature. The polling date is March 3.

The ECP on Monday issued directives that “proposers and seconders” of the candidates shall be present in person before the returning officer (RO) at the time of scrutiny of the papers. Otherwise, the ECP warned, the papers “shall be rejected summarily” by the RO.

As many as 52 senators are set to retire — 50 per cent of the 104-member house — on March 11 after completing their six-year tenure. However, this time there will be no polling for the four seats of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) after its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Therefore, polling will be held to elect 48 senators — 12 each from KP and Balochistan, 11 each from Punjab and Sindh and two from Islamabad. Polling will be held to elect seven members on general seats, two women and two technocrats in the four provinces. Besides this, the election on one minority seat each in KP and Balochistan will also be conducted.

The government has filed a presidential reference in the Supreme Court seeking an open ballot for the Senate elections to check the menace of horse-trading through selling and buying of votes. The court has yet to decide the reference.

However, anticipating a favourable decision from the apex court and after failing to get a constitution amendment bill for the purpose passed from the National Assembly, the government has already issued an ordinance amending the Elections Act 2017, for the use of “open and identifiable ballots”. The opposition parties have rejected the move and even challenged the ordinance in the court.

The most interesting contest is expected on the two seats of Islamabad — one general and one woman — for which polling will be held in the National Assembly. A one-on-one contest between PTI’s Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and former prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, a joint candidate of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), is expected on the only general seat from the capital. Dr Shaikh, who is presently serving in the cabinet of Imran Khan as finance minister, had previously served in the same position when Mr Gilani was the prime minister.

The competition between Mr Gilani and Mr Shaikh has acquired great significance because of the party position in the National Assembly where the ruling alliance has a majority of just 20 votes. The PDM leadership believes that Mr Gilani can secure the seat if he runs his campaign seriously as there are reports that many in the ruling alliance are unhappy over the leadership’s decision to award ticket to Dr Shaikh, who is considered an outsider and known as “parashooter” in the PTI ranks.

Similarly, on the seats reserved for women, there will be a one-on-one contest between the PTI and PML-N. Presently, six candidates have submitted their papers for the one general seat and four women have filed papers for the one woman seat. Besides Mr Shaikh, two other little known PTI candidates — Syed Muhammad Ali Bukhari and Fareed Rehman — have also filed their nominations as covering candidates. Similarly, PML-N’s Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry has also filed the papers as the covering PDM candidate for Mr Gilani.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are 22 candidates, including 11 from the PTI, on seven general seats. For two women seats, a total of 13 candidates, including six from the PTI, have filed the papers. For two technocrat seats, there are another 11 candidates and for one minority seat, there are five candidates.

Prominent candidates from KP are Shibli Faraz and Mohsin Aziz of the PTI and Farhatullah Babar of the PPP. Maulana Ataur Rehman, the brother of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has also filed the papers to contest the election on a general seat.

Prominent among those who have filed papers from Sindh are current deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala, Sherry Rehman, Farooq Naek and Taj Haider of the PPP and Sohail Mansoor Khawaja, Faisal Sabzwari and Abdul Kadir Khanzada of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

Despite the fact that the PTI is expected to win only one general seat from Sindh, five party candidates, including Faisal Vawda, have submitted their papers. Others who have filed papers on the PTI ticket on general seats are Mehmood Baqi Moulvi, Umaid Ali Junejo, Ashraf Jabbar and Zunera Malik. Three PTI women have also filed papers on reserved seats.

Interestingly, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) with only three MPAs in the Sindh Assembly has also fielded Yashaullah Khan Afghan on the seats reserved for technocrats.

In Punjab, the main contest is between the PTI and PML-N. Prominent candidates from Punjab are Pervaiz Rashid, Mushahidullah Khan, Zahid Hamid, Sadia Abbasi and Saira Afzal Tarar of the PML-N and Saifullah Nyazee, Aon Abbas, Omar Sarfaraz Cheema, Ejaz Chaudhry and Ali Zafar from the PTI. Kamil Ali Agha of the PML-Q is also a joint candidate of the ruling alliance in Punjab.

Interestingly, there are three candidates who have filed papers for two seats reserved for technocrats in Punjab. Besides Ali Zafar, Attaullah Khan of the PTI has also filed the papers to face Azam Nazeer Tarar of the PML-N. If one of the PTI candidates withdraws from the race, then both the PML-N and PTI candidates can return unopposed from Punjab on the two technocrat seats.

Amid reports of fissures within the party ranks, the PTI had initially announced the list of its 20 candidates from the four provinces and Islamabad. Last week, the PTI’s central parliamentary board, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had withdrawn the party ticket awarded to business tycoon Abdul Qadir from Balochistan after strong opposition from the PTI provincial leadership and zonal heads. The party high command then nominated Zahoor Agha a general seat. Mr Agha is also among those who filed the papers on the last day.

Opposing the award of party ticket to Abdul Qadir, PTI’s provincial leadership had argued that he did not belong to the PTI as he had been a member of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) till last week.

Sitara Ayaz, who had become a senator in 2015 on the ticket of the Awami National Party (ANP) from KP and who is among 52 senators retiring on March 11, has again submitted her nomination papers, this time from Balochistan and on the ticket of the BAP.

The ANP leadership had expelled Ms Ayaz from the party for allegedly polling her vote in favour of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani when the opposition parties had moved a no-confidence motion against him.

Prominent candidates in Balochistan are Sarfaraz Bugti of the BAP, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F, Israrullah Zehri of the BNP-Awami and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

The PTI is set to become the single largest party in the Senate after the coming elections. However, it will certainly not be able to gain control of the upper house of parliament and will have to rely on its allies and opposition parties even for carrying out simple legislation.

A careful calculation done on the basis of the party position in the National Assembly and the four provincial legislatures, which form the constituencies for the elections of senators, and if all the legislators vote in line with the policy of their parties, the PTI is expected to win 20 seats, followed by six seats each by the PPP and BAP and five by the PML-N in the Senate elections.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2021

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