Knife-edge election for top Senate posts today

Published March 12, 2021
Political pundits say it is going to be a close contest and any deviation from party policy and wastage of votes in secret ballot can translate into an upset. — APP/File
Political pundits say it is going to be a close contest and any deviation from party policy and wastage of votes in secret ballot can translate into an upset. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Crucial election for the offices of chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate will be held here on Friday (today) amid a controversy over sale and purchase of votes and allegations by two major opposition parties that institutions were invo­lved in political engineering and their lawmakers were being pressurised to vote for government candidates.

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (PPP) and Maulana Abdul Gha­foor Haideri (JUI-F) have been fielded by the Pakistan Democratic Movement as its joint candidates for the posts of chairman and deputy chairman, respectively. The government had alre­a­dy announced that outgoing Senate Chairman Muha­mmad Sadiq Sanjrani will be its candidate for the office for another term.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday nominated Senator Mirza Moha­m­mad Afridi — a billionaire from erstwhile Fata — for the post of the deputy chairman, a day before the election for the two top offices of the upper house is set to take place. The announcement was made by federal Information Minis­ter Shibli Faraz on Twitter.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has nominated Sena­tor Mirza Mohammad Afridi for deputy chairman slot, giving representation to ex-Fata (Federally Adminis­tered Tribal Areas) PTI member,” Mr Faraz wrote.

PML-N, PPP members being pressurised to vote for govt candidates, allege opposition parties

Interestingly, Mr Afridi was elected to the Senate in the March 2018 elections as an independent candidate from Fata on a general seat and had joined the PML-N after holding a meeting with the then party chief Nawaz Sharif, but later silently switched loyalty. A document available with Dawn shows that he had submitted the declaration of joining the PML-N to the Election Commission of Pakistan on March 16, 2018.

Mr Afridi saw the document sent to him by Dawn on WhatsApp, but was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.

Though the opposition enjoys a clear majority in the Senate to win both the seats, political pundits say it is going to be a close contest and any deviation from party policy and wastage of votes in secret ballot can translate into an upset.

Back in August 2019, Senate Chairman Sanjrani had survived no-confidence vote when only 50 votes were cast in favour of the opposition’s motion when 53 votes were needed of the 104-member House for success of the move, 45 senators had voted against the motion and five votes were rejected. Interestingly, earlier when the resolution was moved for no-confidence motion, 64 opposition members had supported it.

Now, the senators of the ruling coalition include 27 members of the PTI, 12 of Balochistan Awami Party, three of MQM, three independents and one each of PML-Q and GDA. The opposition senators include 21 of PPP, 17 of PML-N, excluding Ishaq Dar who has not taken oath of the office, five of JUI-F, two each of ANP, BNP-Mengal, PkMAP and National Party and one of Jamaat-i-Islami. The opposition collectively has 52 members in the House excluding Mr Dar, against 47 senators belonging to the ruling coalition. As the Jamaat-i-Islami has decided to abstain from voting, the difference between the vote bank of the government and the opposition has narrowed down to four.

After the Senate elections on March 3, the House strength has been reduced to 100 senators and now it consists of 99 senators, as Ishaq Dar is in self-exile and has not taken oath as a senator. Likewise, JI Senator Sirajul Haq has reportedly announced to stay away from the election and this brings the strength of the opposition to 51 senators.

PM hosts luncheon

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who hosted a luncheon in honour of the ruling coalition legislators, expressed the hope that both Mr Sanjrani and Mr Mirza would successfully make it to the top two posts. The senators belonging to the allied parties held out assurance of support to these two candidates.

The prime minister said he was mindful of the concerns and reservations of the coalition partners and would duly address them after this crucial phase.

Senate Chairman Sanjrani called on Prime Minister Khan. Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem and federal Minister for Information Senator Shibli Faraz were also present on the occasion.

Separately, chief organiser of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator-elect Saifullah Khan Nyazee, PTI secretary general Aamir Mahmood Kayani and Governor of Sindh Imran Ismail had a special meeting with the prime minister. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman and Chief Minister Mahmood Khan were also present.

The meeting held a discussion on the election of chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate. PM Khan directed Mr Nyazee and Mr Kayani to complete the process of organizing the PTI at the lowest level.

Retiring senators

Though some of the senators supposed to be retiring have staged a comeback, prominent among those who will not be part of the new Senate are: Raja Zafarul Haq, firebrand Pervaiz Rashid, retd Ge (retd) Abdul Qayyum, retd Gen Salahuddin Tirmizi, Javed Abbasi, Ayesha Raza Farooq and Chaudhry Tanvir Khan (PML-N), Rehman Malik, Sassui Palijo (PPP), Sirajul Haq (JI), Usman Khan Kakar (PkMAP) and Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini (BNP-M).

Five senators passed way before completion of their term. They were: Mohammad Azam Musakhail, Shahbaz Durrani, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Kulsoom Parveen and Mushahidullah Khan.

Around a dozen senators have been re-elected before expiry of their six-year term. They are: Sherry Rehman, Farooq H. Naek, Saleem Mandviwala, Shibli Faraz, Liaquat Tarakai, Mohsin Aziz, Zeeshan Khanzada, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman, Prof Sajid Mir, Sarfraz Bugti and Manzoor Kakar.

President Dr Arif Alvi has nominated Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah as presiding officer for the Senate session to be held today. He will administer oath to newly elected members of the Senate in the morning session. The schedule for the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman will be announced afterwards.

The chairman after his election will be administered oath by the presiding officer. Later the newly elected chairman will preside over the session for election of the deputy chairman and administration of oath to him.

PML-N wants security agencies to be neutral

Speaking at a press conference, PML-N vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other party leaders urged the country’s security agencies to let the democratic process take its course in the Senate chairman’s election.

Other PML-N leaders present on the occasion were Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Hafiz Abdul Kareem.

They alleged that PML-N senators were being pressurised by officials of intelligence agencies over phone calls to vote for the PTI candidate for the post of Senate chairman.

Mr Abbasi said the Senate elections used to be a smooth process without any controversy in Pakistan, but all that changed in 2018 when a clear majority of the PML-N was bulldozed to install a chairman who was not even represented by any party at the time. Since then, he said, the pushing and pulling of party senators through blackmail and other means had taken over the Senate elections.

Mr Abbasi said when the Inter-Services Public Relations director general assured that the Inter-Services Intelligence and other security agencies would not interfere in the elections, the PML-N took his word. However, he said, the party now had no choice but to call out the fact that ISI officials had once again started making phone calls to force senators of the PML-N and allied parties to change their loyalty and vote for the government candidate.

Mr Abbasi said many senators like Hafiz Abdul Kareem were threatened by state institutions like NAB, FIA and Anti-Corruption Establishment to vote against party lines or face persecution and political victimisation.

The former prime minister said the PML-N did not want to name names because it understood that those officials were only following orders. It was the practice of influencing voters through state institutions that needed to be exposed, condemned and eliminated, he stressed.

Abdul Kareem told the media that ever since the schedule for Senate elections was announced, he had been implicated in fictitious cases with a clear message that these cases would disappear if he voted in a way desired by the state. He said several phone calls were made to him this month to coerce him to vote for the government candidate.

Abdul Kareem said he told the agency officials that his conscience did not allow him to vote for a party that had destroyed the country’s economy, interior and foreign matters.

He said he stood for the supremacy of God Almighty, his Prophet (PBUH), the best interests of the country and loyalty to his party.

Answering a question, Ahsan Iqbal said the entire country was deep into crisis because of the “imposed” PTI government and yet “those who had imposed” it continued to back the party. He said the powers that had “installed this disaster” on Pakistan should open their eyes and see the economic, socioeconomic indicators, foreign policy disasters, the loss of Occupied Kashmir and different sectors’ nosedive. He said the nation was begging the “power wielding institutions” of the country to stay neutral instead of putting their weight behind the “imposed” PTI government that had ripped the country to shreds.

MNA Shazia Marri, information secretary, Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, Faisal Karim Kundi, information secretary, PPP, and Abdul Qadir Patel MNA told a separate press conference that opposition Senators were receiving threatening telephone calls and the government had lost all ethics to succeed in Senate chairman and deputy chairman elections.

“The PDM has already won in the election and the numbers and ethics both are with the alliance candidates,” they said and urged the prime minister not to involve the institutions in politics.

They said the government was perplexed in this election like it was in the Senate polls on March 3.

They said that the PPP had taken notice of the statement of Information Minister Shibli Faraz and feared that attempts would be made to harm the party senators.

They said the government was frightened of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani because he had been a popular prime minister.

They said that the PPP had confidence in its allies that they would vote for the PDM candidates.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2021

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