• Opposition’s candidate defeats finance minister by five votes
• PTI emerges as single largest party in upper house of parliament
ISLAMABAD: Hours after the ruling coalition’s candidate Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh suffered defeat at the hands of opposition’s Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in a major upset during the Senate elections on Wednesday, the government announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan would seek a vote of confidence afresh from the National Assembly.
When contacted, federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz said that the prime minister would seek vote of confidence from the assembly during its ongoing session.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, however, clinched the reserved seat of Senate for women from Islamabad. Its candidate Fouzia Arshad secured 174 votes while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Farzana Kausar got 161 votes. Five votes were rejected.
Rejected votes played a significant role in the upset with Mr Gilani securing 169 votes as against 164 bagged by Mr Shaikh, as the number of rejected votes exceeded the margin of victory.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi along with Minister for Special Initiatives Asad Umar after the vote count addressed a press conference to announce that Prime Minister Imran Khan had decided to get a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly. Mr Qureshi hoped that the exercise would expose those who had ‘betrayed’ the party in the Senate polls.
One of the ballots that got wasted had been issued to chairman of the parliamentary committee on Kashmir Shaheryar Afridi. The Kashmir committee chairman, according to sources, had signed his ballot paper, but realised his mistake only after putting the paper into ballot box. When he requested for the issuance of another ballot paper to him, the request was declined. Mr Afridi mentioned he had been ill for the past few days and was unable to attend party meetings held for the polls’ preparation. He alleged the ECP staff had failed to guide him properly when he arrived at the venue to cast his vote.
Ex-president Asif Ali Zardari also destroyed his vote, but he was wise enough to get a new one instead of putting it in the ballot box.
While it remains a mystery as to who were the six others whose ballots had been rejected, polling agent for the opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement Syed Naveed Qamar claimed that they included the votes of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul.
Talking to Dawn,Mr Qamar said some PTI lawmakers told him that Mr Khan had ticked the box instead of mentioning the number of Mr Shaikh.
Informed sources told Dawn that about three ballots had not mentioned the first preference, while some of the rejected ballots were marked with signs of dash or ticked.
In all, 340 members of the National assembly out of total 341 cast their votes. Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, the lone member of Jamaat-i-Islami was the one who did not turn up to vote, as per JI’s understanding to abstain from voting reached with the ruling PTI.
Earlier, the party had reportedly announced its support for opposition’s Gilani.
The result was announced by Election Commission of Pakistan’s Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal Hussain in his capacity as returning officer, in the presence of both the candidates. Mr Gilani and Mr Shaikh spent most of the time together and were seen strolling while the count for women seat was under way.
PM Khan stayed in the hall for a brief time and left immediately after voting. He came to cast his vote along with FM Qureshi and Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry. He passed close to Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, sitting with other opposition lawmakers after casting vote, but avoided to look at them.
The votes were counted thrice.
One of the PDM polling agents while turning to Mr Gilani and Mr Shaikh made a fist before opening his hand to signal the victory with the margin of five votes, prompting the electronic media to break the news about defeat of Mr Shaikh even before a formal announcement by the returning officer (RO).
Slogans were chanted by the lawmakers when Mr Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari, Shehbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Imran Khan cast their votes. The RO kept asking the members not to chant slogans and leave after voting, but to no avail. Slogans of “Go Niazi go” were chanted by the opposition members after announcement of result.
The PTI cried foul after the results were out, alleging that the fears of corruption and horse-trading proved to be true. One of the PTI lawmakers demanded that the matter involving ‘sale and purchase’ of votes should be investigated and vowed to challenge the result.
The opposition said the success of former PM Gilani was the beginning of the ouster of the present PTI-led government. It said the members had voted in accordance with their conscience. One of the opposition members believed Mr Sheikh would leave the country in a few days. Some went to the extent of demanding a resignation from PM Khan. The opposition also claimed that it would easily win the Daska by-poll on March 18.
As expected, the PTI has emerged as the single largest party in the Senate according to unofficial results as number of its seats has increased though the party will still need the allies and opposition’s cooperation for legislation.
In the National Assembly, the ruling alliance enjoys the support of 180 members whereas there are 161 members sitting on the opposition benches.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021