'Great joke with democracy': Opposition vows to challenge Senate chairman election result

Published March 12, 2021
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference alongside other PPP leaders. — DawnNewsTV
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addresses a press conference alongside other PPP leaders. — DawnNewsTV
Raja Pervez Ashraf, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Ahsan Iqbal address a press conference in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
Raja Pervez Ashraf, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Ahsan Iqbal address a press conference in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday blasted the result of the Senate chairman election which saw the ruling PTI-backed Sadiq Sanjrani defeat PPP's Yousuf Raza Gilani — the Pakistan Democratic Movement's joint candidate — and vowed to challenge the result in the high court.

Addressing a press conference alongside Gilani and Raza Rabbani, the PPP leader claimed that the seven senators whose votes were rejected for not being stamped properly were "purposely disenfranchised" through the "illegal and biased" decisions taken by the presiding officer Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah.

According to official results announced by the presiding officer, the PTI-backed candidate, Sanjrani, received 48 votes, while Gilani obtained 42 votes. A total of 98 senators voted in the election.

If the seven rejected votes were added to Gilani's tally, his total would have amounted to 49 — one more than Sanjrani's.

Bilawal said those seven votes were cast "properly, legally and constitutionally but seven senators of Pakistan were purposely disenfranchised", adding that the votes were also valid according to past judgements of the Supreme Court and the stance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

"Whether you stamp on the arrow or the name or the box, when the voter's intention is clear, the vote is valid," he emphasised.

He said he had talked to PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman, his father and former president Asif Ali Zardari and his lawyers about this "atrocity" and they had decided to move the court over the election and "get this injustice reversed".

"Our stance is that we have won. The Senate chairman election has been stolen in front of us, the people of Pakistan, but despite these black-handed tactics, what [the PTI] has proven ... is that the people are with Pakistan Democratic Movement and not Imran Khan.

"[The PTI] has proven in Senate too that the Senate of Pakistan was with Yousuf Raza Gilani but the government alliance's presiding officer while violating his own rules made a decision through which the post of Senate chairman was given to someone else."

The PPP chairperson read out a ruling of the ECP, stating that "a stamp which appears on multiple boxes but a prominent portion of which is in favour of a particular candidate will be counted as a valid vote."

He also cited judgements of the Supreme Court from 2004 and 2007 that, according to him, stated: "Where the voter's intention is clear, you cannot reject their vote."

Bilawal questioned how a senator could be disenfranchised when even a common citizen could not.

"From what the presiding officer was saying, it was clear those votes were in favour of Yousuf Raza Gilani. The presiding officer was certain they were for Gilani and if they had been validated, he would have won the election, [but] because he is biased and antithetical to PPP and an ally of the government of Imran Khan, he made this biased decision."

He expressed the hope that the opposition would "get justice and a decision in our favour" from the high court.

Replying to a question, Bilawal said the PDM was also discussing the possibility of bringing a no-confidence motion against Sanjrani but had decided to approach the courts as soon as possible because it was a "very clear, evident and open-and-shut case".

When he was asked whether he believed the establishment had played a neutral role in today's election, Bilawal said: "If you ask me today whether every institution is neutral, obviously the answer is no."

The PPP's struggle is that every institution is neutral and works within its domain, he said, adding that it was a result of the opposition's struggle and efforts that a "little difference could be seen" in the recent by-elections.

'Great joke with democracy'

Earlier, other senior members of the opposition — including PPP leaders Raja Pervez Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal — also denounced the result of the Senate chairman election.

At a press conference, Ashraf alleged that the "unconstitutional and unlawful" manner in which Gilani's majority was defeated and the decision was given against him was "worthy of condemnation". He alleged that those who had talked about the "sanctity and importance" of the vote had instead planted cameras to affect the polling process — a reference to the "spy cameras" allegedly found near the polling booth in the Senate earlier in the day.

"I think that when we go to the courts and they analyse the ballot papers [...] Yousuf Raza Gilani will be successful," he added.

Iqbal, meanwhile, also said the opposition would take the matter to the courts "and we expect from the court that it will correct this attack on the Consitution, the law and the vote".

Both leaders sharply criticised the process through which Gilani's seven votes were rejected and Ashraf claimed that the PDM had actually won, while the "government candidate has badly failed". He questioned why Sanjrani had occupied the seat despite being in the minority.

"I understand that if he was a politician, a giver of democracy to the country and a lover of democracy then he would've himself rejected that I don't have more votes [and] I don't have the majority so I am not qualified to be sitting on this chair," he said.

He added that the use of such tactics by the government was a sign that "its days are numbered". "A great joke has been had with democracy. We and the PDM reject this election," said Ashraf.

Iqbal said the seven rejected votes stood valid according to a decision of the Supreme Court (SC) he quoted.

"The question of the validity or otherwise of the ballot papers can only be determined by ascertaining the intention of the voters and in that respect, the manner of affixing the stamp is material.

"If the mark or stamp is affixed upon the name of the candidate instead of their symbol, there cannot be any hesitation to maintain that the voter had in fact shown his consent to cast vote in [the candidate's] favour."

He maintained that other decisions of the SC also held that the intent of the voter needed to be considered, saying there were "dozens of decisions of the SC, the high court and ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) that [such a] vote is valid".

"It is as clear as the rising of the sun that this rigging was done by forcefully invalidating seven votes to turn the defeat of the government into victory," the PML-N leader alleged.

"PDM candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani won with 49 votes and government candidate Sadiq Sanjrani lost with 48 votes but the victory of the losing candidate was declared by forcibly rejecting seven votes of Yousuf Raza Gilani."

PPP leader and Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, meanwhile, citing a banner stating the instructions for casting vote in the Senate hall, said that according to it the stamp was to be placed inside the box containing the favoured candidate's name.

He also claimed that the senate secretary had told him and PPP leaders Farooq Naek and Sherry Rehman "that the name can also be stamped".

'Political burial'

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.

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.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar also took to Twitter to congratulate Sanjrani on his win.

"He has run the Senate well in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Long live Balochistan, long live Pakistan," he wrote.

National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser also conveyed his congratulations to the new Senate chairman.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, meanwhile, took the opportunity to poke fun at the opposition.

He said not a single vote had been wasted for the election of the Senate deputy chairman which "shows that the learning ability of the opposition's senators is quite good".

Members of the government also responded to the opposition's announcement of challenging the result and said it was not possible.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said the election was a matter related to the "business of the house" and therefore it could not be challenged in any tribunal or the ECP.

"Being part of the internal proceedings of the house, it is fully protected under Articles 69 and 60 of the Constitution."

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