PTI candidate Sadiq Sanjrani won another term as the Senate chairman on Friday in a blow to the joint opposition — despite the latter having a majority in the Upper House.
In a second win for the ruling coalition, PTI-backed Senator Mirza Mohammad Afridi was elected deputy chairman, beating opposition candidate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F.
The opposition challenged the result of the Senate chairman election after it was announced that seven votes cast in favour of opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani were rejected.
However, presiding officer Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah overruled their objection, saying the seven votes were rejected because they were not stamped correctly. Another vote was rejected because it had been cast in favour of both the candidates.
With a total of eight votes rejected, Gilani received 42 valid votes, while Sanjrani won the election after bagging 48 votes. In total, 98 senators voted in the election.
For the deputy chairman election, Sanjrani announced that Afridi had received 54 votes, while Haideri received 44. This indicates seven opposition senators likely voted for the PTI-backed candidate.
Polling began after 3pm, and an officer called out names of senators in alphabetical order who collected ballot papers from officials and cast their votes at the polling booth.
JUI-F's Haideri was the first senator to be called to make his choice.
Shah, who cast the last vote, announced around 4:40 that all 98 senators present in the house had cast their votes after which the counting began at 5pm.
After being declared the winner, Sanjrani took the oath of his office and later presided over the election for the Senate deputy chairman.
Speaking after assuming office, Sanjrani thanked his colleagues who voted for him and "thought [him] capable" to once again elect him the chairman.
He also thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI leadership and BAP leader Jam Kamal Khan, and assured the house that "I will run this house exactly the way I have run it for three years, by keeping everyone together."
Former prime minister Gilani (PPP) and Haideri (JUI-F) were fielded by the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement as its joint candidates for the posts of chairman and deputy chairman, respectively.
The government had already announced that Sanjrani will be its candidate for the office for another term. On Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan nominated Senator Afridi — a billionaire from erstwhile Fata — for the post of deputy chairman.
Shah, who earlier administered the oath to all 48 newly elected members of the Upper House, read out the names of the candidates contesting for the positions as well as the senators sponsoring them.
He also directed that a body be formed comprising equal number of senators from the government and the opposition to investigate the matter of "hidden" cameras found earlier in the session.
"Recovered items like cameras and otherwise, will be secured and sealed till the final disposal of the matter," he said.
The presiding officer further said a new polling booth had been established and asked representatives from both sides to inspect them.
While announcing the results, presiding officer Shah said seven votes cast in favour of Gilani were rejected because the stamp on these ballot papers was affixed on Gilani's name instead of "against his name".
Gilani's polling agent Farook H. Naek contested the presiding officer's ruling, arguing that the instructions only stated that the stamp had to be placed inside the box of the preferred candidate, and did not specify on "which area of the box" the stamp had to be affixed.
On the other hand, PTI's Mohsin Aziz, the polling agent for Sanjrani, while reading out from a paper said the instructions clearly stated that the vote had to be stamped in the box in front of the preferred candidate's name, and not on top of the candidate's name.
Shah then stated that in his view, the instructions stated that the stamp had to be placed in front of the candidate's name. He subsequently rejected the seven votes in question and declared Sanjrani the winner.
As opposition members protested, the presiding officer asked them to "go and appeal [the ruling] in the election tribunal" if they didn't agree with it.
The PPP rejected the results of the Senate chairman election, with Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar saying the party could either challenge the result in court or bring a no-confidence motion against Sanjrani. He said the PPP leadership will announce the final route it will take.
The ranks of the government, meanwhile, were abuzz with celebration in the wake of Sanjrani's victory.
Speaking to media just after Sanjrani was declared the winner, Minister for Information Shibli Faraz said his victory showed that the time had come for the PDM's "political burial".
"I want to congratulate the people of Pakistan because the dark forces have been defeated," he said.
Faraz said the opposition had "got the same lesson of rejected votes they tried to [use] in the National Assembly. Rejected votes, rejected PDM."
Senator Faisal Javed added that not only the people of Pakistan, but "their own people rejected them". He said Sanjran's win was a win for all of Balochistan.
Who do the numbers favour?
Though the opposition enjoyed a clear majority in the Senate to win both the seats, political pundits before the election said it was going to be a close contest and any deviation from party policy and wastage of votes in secret ballot could 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 against the 53 needed in the 104-member House for the move to succeed. Forty five senators had voted against the motion and five votes were rejected. Interestingly, earlier when the resolution was moved for the no-confidence motion, 64 opposition members had supported it.
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.
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 PML-F – which is part of the Grand Democratic Alliance (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 Dar, against 47 senators belonging to the ruling coalition. As the Jamaat-i-Islami had decided to abstain from voting, the difference between the vote bank of the government and the opposition had narrowed down to four.
'Secret cameras' controversy
Earlier, the special session got off to a noisy start as the opposition, led by PPP's Raza Rabbani, claimed that "secret cameras" had been installed at the polling booth. "This is against Article 226 of the Constitution," he said, as the house resounded with chants of "shame, shame".
The opposition demanded that an investigation be carried out into who was "in control of the Senate".
The protest prompted the presiding officer to issue directives for changing the polling booth. "The current polling booth should be removed, another should be set up afresh," he said.
Earlier in the day, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar claimed that he and PML-N Senator Musadiq Malik found "spy cameras" above the polling booth.
On his Twitter account, Malik said: "What a freaking joke. The Senate polling booth has secret /hidden cameras installed. SO MUCH FOR DEMOCRACY."
He also claimed to have found another "hidden device" in the polling booth.
The two opposition leaders also wrote a letter to the presiding officer asking for the formation of a Senate committee to probe the incident. In the letter, the Senators said that they discovered four cameras "obviously installed to record votes to be cast" during the scrutiny of the polling booth.
It said that the incident was a "great blow" to democracy, rule of law, the Constitution and the recent opinion by the Supreme Court that the Senate polls be held by secret ballot.
The letter proposed the formation of a Senate committee consisting of an equal number of members from the treasury and the opposition. It also proposed the recovered cameras be secured and sealed till the final disposal of the matter.
Meanwhile, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry responded to Khokhar's tweet, stating that it looked "more like a CCTV cable" and that "spy cameras are far more sophisticated".
The Senate secretary should look into this claim, he said.
In another tweet, he shared an "example" of a spy camera. "The camera can be fitted in the head of a nail. The detection of such cameras is impossible. In all likelihood, the CCTV camera cable has been misunderstood as a spy camera," he theorised.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz also lashed out at the government, calling them "habitual, certified vote stealers".
"They have become so panicked that they have resorted to using cameras to spy on their own members when phoning agencies proved to be futile."
After the Result Transmission System (RTS) and Daska by-poll fiasco, those making a last ditch effort to rob the Senate have lost the last battle, she said. "The Constitution mentions secret vote not secret cameras. Vote stealers have some shame and [resign] from your offices."
After the Parliament and the opposition refused to give an NRO to the vote stealers, after failing to use the election commission and the apex court for your own gains, it is a serious crime to disrespect the Constitution, she said. "Even the selectors must regret [the situation] they have gotten themselves into," she said.
Govt vows to 'expose' opposition
Speaking at a press conference, Information Minister Shibli Faraz vowed to investigate the incident and "expose" the opposition.
Many Senate officers were appointed during the tenure of the opposition parties, he said. "They have been doing this for a long time; this is evident from the video of Ali Gilani teaching MNAs how to waste votes," he said.
He said that the PTI's stance has always been clear and is in front of the people. "We have always wanted corruption to be removed and open voting to come into play."
He maintained that a new polling booth should be set up, adding that the opposition had conspired to install the cameras. The minister stated that if the government wished to make such moves, it would have done so during the Senate polls.
"Even though they are thieves, they want to portray themselves as the victims. We will uncover who was behind this," he said. "How did they know that cameras were present? They did it themselves," he said.
Shortly after his press conference, the minister reiterated that the opposition's "sinister" plan had been exposed. He claimed that they used "criminal tactics" to sway the Senate polls in their favour.
"That’s why the PDM opposed open ballot. The era of loot and plunder taking its last breath," he said.
Senators take oath
During the morning session, Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah administered the oath to the 48 new members. After taking the oath, the senators signed the roll of members.