AMID fears of horse-trading, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its two allied parties in Sindh are eyeing five of the 11 Senate seats in the province in view of their collective strength in the provincial assembly. However, it remains to be seen whether the three-party opposition alliance will pull off victory from the clutches of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party on March 3, if polling is held on the basis of secret balloting.
Allegations of horse-trading during Senate elections are not new for the Sindh Assembly. In the 2018 Senate elections, many of the 51 lawmakers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan had voted for PPP candidates, instead of their own party’s, due to which the ruling party grabbed more seats in the upper house of parliament than expected.
It was, however, in 2015 when the Senate candidates in Sindh returned successful in a transparent manner because of an agreement between the PPP and the-then Altaf Hussain-led unified MQM, with the former getting seven and the latter getting four seats.
This time around, the PTI, the largest opposition party in Sindh, and its two coalition partners at the centre, the MQM-P and Grand Democratic Alliance, have been accusing the PPP of trying to indulge in horse-trading by approaching opposition lawmakers and fielding candidates disproportionate to its own strength in the house.
No Punjab model in sight
Unlike Punjab where all candidates have already returned unopposed following an understanding between rival parties to end horse-trading, no such model is in the sight in Sindh where 17 candidates are in the run for 11 Senate seats — seven general and two seats each reserved for technocrats and women.
The total number of lawmakers in the Sindh Assembly is 168 and 24 votes are required for winning one general seat and 56 votes are needed for a reserved seat.
The strength of the ruling PPP in the Sindh Assembly is 99. It can easily win six seats, including four general, one reserved for a technocrat and one for a woman, on the basis of its numbers. But, its decision to contest the March 3 election on all 11 seats in total disregard of its numeric strength in the house has fuelled speculations of horse-trading.
The PPP’s seven candidates on as many general seats are Sherry Rehman, Taj Haider, Saleem Mandviwala, Jam Mahtab Hussain Dahar, Advocate Shahadat Awan, Sadiq Memon and Dost Ali Jessar. Barrister Farooq H. Naik and Karim Ahmed Khawaja are in the run for two technocrat seats while Palwasha Khan and Rukhsana Parveen are the party’s candidates for two women seats.
On the other hand, there are five parties whose lawmakers in the Sindh Assembly sit on opposition benches. The PTI is the largest opposition party with 30 lawmakers, followed by MQM-P (21), GDA (14), Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (three) and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal with one MPA.
The collective strength of the five opposition parties is 69, but the TLP and MMA have usually either sided with the ruling party or stayed neutral in the house. The TLP has fielded its one candidate — Yasha Ullah Khan Afghan — on a technocrat seat.
Excluding TLP and MMA, the strength of joint opposition stands at 65 in the 168-strong house and based on its number it can easily win five seats — three general and one seat each reserved for women and technocrats.
Unlike the PPP, the joint opposition has fielded five candidates in accordance with its strength in the house.
The PTI has nominated Faisal Vawda on a general seat and Saifullah Abro on a technocrat seat while the MQM-P has fielded Syed Faisal Ali Subzwari and Khalida Ateeb on a general and a seat reserved for women, respectively. The GDA has fielded Pir Sadruddin Shah on a general seat.
Rifts in opposition ranks
The PTI and MQM-P have been facing internal issues over distribution of Senate tickets and there are disgruntled lawmakers in both the parties, who are reportedly ready to act on their own instead of following party directives if the election takes place through secret ballot.
While eyebrows were raised in Islamabad and Karachi on PTI’s decision to field Mr Vawda, a sitting MNA and federal minister, for Senate elections, it is the nomination of Mr Abro that the PTI’s Sindh chapter has opposed to an extent that former Sindh chief minister and party leader Liaquat Ali Jatoi came on record to allege that his own party sold the ticket to Mr Abro for Rs350 million.
Also, as the PTI and MQM-P have forged a coalition at the centre against the wishes of their provincial representatives, the two parties are also sceptical of each other’s MPAs. Differences between certain members of the two parties surfaced in a recent meeting held at the Sindh Governor House.
Against this backdrop, the PPP’s decision to field candidates on all 11 Senate seats in Sindh appears to be a calculated move to exploit the situation in its favour. The party has so far reached out to the TLP, MMA and MQM-P.
On Saturday, the PPP told the MQM-P that it was ready to withdraw its two candidates on a general and woman seat provided the latter support Yousaf Raza Gilani on an Islamabad Senate seat against the PTI’s Hafeez Shaikh.
The MQM-P asked PPP to give it time to take a decision apparently because all eyes are on the Supreme Court which is likely to announce its verdict on a presidential reference seeking holding of Senate polls through open ballot on Monday.
However, if the PPP ends up with one more seat in disproportionate to its electoral votes in the house without having any seat adjustment, it will for sure taint its legitimate victory on other seats, leave a big question mark on the transparency of the entire process and vindicate Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stance about horse-trading.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2021