THE Senate election results have delivered a stunning blow to the PTI. While the ruling party has seen an increase in its overall Senate numbers, the control of the upper house remains with the opposition parties — a development which is viewed by many as a much-needed victory for the PDM. The key Islamabad seat, which saw a battle between the PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani and Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, has been the defining moment of this election with significant symbolic and practical consequences. With 169 votes, Mr Gilani defeated Mr Sheikh who got 164 votes — a shortfall that not only has shaken the PTI’s confidence but which also warrants introspection within the party.

Predictably, elements in the government have already started the conversation about Mr Gilani’s disqualification, based on the leak of a controversial video which shows his son Ali Haider Gilani instructing someone on how to waste a Senate vote. Though the video is a dramatic last-minute twist to the Senate election saga, it is very much in keeping with the season of horse-trading, vote-buying, threats and engineering that haunt every upper house poll — a continuation of an unsavoury tradition that favours personal gain over party stance. While there may be some truth to the allegations of horse-trading in the Gilani-Sheikh upset, the unscrupulous deal-making on Senate seats is not something restricted to any one party.

The PTI must seriously reflect on how a seat Prime Minister Imran Khan himself was so confident about was lost. It is entirely possible that elements in the PTI, who make no secret about their grudges against non-elected position holders, defected to thwart the possibility of a cabinet dominated by technocrats. Time and again, there have been reports of factions in the PTI that have worked against each other, to the extent that some have been accused of engineering sackings and cabinet reshuffles. The ‘unelected versus elected’ guard in the PTI has been at war since the beginning of this government — a reality ignored by Mr Khan who placed his trust in unelected individuals. Today, those rifts in the party have come to the fore. The PTI will pay a heavy price for it, as it appears it will have to find a new finance minister at a time when the economy needs stability. No doubt, this seat is a huge symbolic victory for the opposition, and the new composition in the Senate will set the tone for the future of political discourse in the country. For all its bravado ahead of the Senate election, the government’s desperate push to have an open ballot perhaps was one indication that it feared the upset that was witnessed yesterday. One thing is certain: the Gilani victory will haunt the PTI for a long time — even if the prime minister goes for a vote of confidence in parliament.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021

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