• Opposition spots spy cameras in and outside polling booth
• Re-elected Sanjrani secures 48, Gilani bags 42 votes as eight declared invalid
• Afridi defeats Haideri with a lead of 10 votes
ISLAMABAD: In an election that ran into controversy with the detection of spy cameras installed in and around the Senate polling booth even before voting had started, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led ruling coalition candidate Mohammad Sadiq Sanjrani on Friday defeated opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani to retain Senate chairmanship for another term.
The opposition, which otherwise enjoys a clear majority in the upper house of parliament, faced the dramatic upset when it emerged that among the lawmakers who opted for Mr Gilani, at least seven ‘wasted’ their votes.
In all, 98 votes were polled in the 100-member Senate. Of them, 48 were secured by Mr Sanjrani and 42 bagged by Mr Gilani were declared valid.
Since the number of rejected votes exceeded the margin of latter’s victory, Mr Sanjrani was declared successful, setting off a wave of celebrations in his hometown in Balochistan.
Jamaat-i-Islami’s lone member in the Senate Mushtaq Ahmad did not turn up in line with his party’s decision to abstain while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz senator Ishaq Dar has been in self-exile even after expiry of half of his six-year term.
Presiding officer Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah said of the total eight rejected votes, seven had been stamped on Mr Gilani’s name instead of the blank space in the box, while one of the voters stamped for both candidates.
The polling agent for opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement’s candidate, Farooq H. Naek, questioned the decision of the presiding officer arguing that the intent of the voters was clear and the instructions of the Senate secretariat did not clearly mention the exact space where the stamp was supposed to be affixed. He said for the mistake committed by the Senate secretariat, the voters could not be punished. The presiding officer, however, ruled otherwise and rejected the votes. “If you do not like my ruling, you can go to the tribunal,” he remarked.
Later while talking to Dawn, the presiding officer said a group of seven lawmakers within the PDM deliberately got their votes invalidated by making a ‘mistake’ on the similar pattern. “They knew they were required to affix the stamp in the box in front of the candidate’s name but chose to waste their votes,” he said.
To corroborate his claim, the officer said, no ballot had been wasted in the election for the office of Senate deputy chairman, as ruling alliance candidate Mirza Mohammad Afridi defeated the opposition candidate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri with a bigger margin of 10 votes.
However, Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman tweeted: “Nowhere do these rules pasted on the senate polling stand say that your vote is rejected if it is on the name. It is only rejected if the stamp goes out of the box or falls outside the line. The PO decided to reject 7 votes because Yousuf Raza Gilani [of the PPP] had won by those votes at 50”.
Soon after taking oath as Senate chairman, Mr Sanjrani presided over the session for conduct of deputy chairman’s election. Mr Afridi, who was elected to the Senate from the erstwhile federally administered tribal areas (Fata) on a general seat in 2018, clinched 54 votes as against 44 secured by Maulana Haidri of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl). No vote was rejected in the election.
The 54 votes secured by the candidate of the ruling coalition, who has 47 seats in the House, indicate that some seven opposition lawmakers did not vote for their candidate.
Mr Sanjrani then administered oath to the newly elected deputy chairman Mr Afridi before announcing that the senators elected as independent had seven days to join either the treasury or the opposition benches and reading out prorogation order.
Earlier, the special session got off to a noisy start as the opposition, led by PPP senator 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 slogans of ‘shame, shame’ resonated in the House.
The opposition demanded that an investigation be carried out on as to 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, the newly elected senators took oath of their offices. It was during that process that spy cameras were found in and outside the polling booth hours before voting for the chairman and deputy chairman slots.
PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar claimed that he and PML-N Senator Musadiq Malik found the “spy cameras” above the polling booth. On his twitter account, Mr Malik said: “What a freaking joke. The Senate polling booth has secret /hidden cameras installed. SO MUCH FOR DEMOCRACY.”
Mr Khokhar and Mr Malik also filed a written complaint and the chair announced formation of a six-member committee comprising three members from each side to investigate the matter.
Interestingly, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry responded to Senator 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 added.
In another tweet, the minister 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 remarked.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz lashing out at the government called the ruling party “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, adding that the Constitution mentioned “secret vote not secret cameras”.
“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, they have gotten themselves into,” she added.
However, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said many Senate officers were appointed during the tenure of the opposition parties. He vowed to investigate the incident and “expose” the opposition. “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 added.
Celebrations in Chagai
Mr Sanjrani’s election as the Senate chairman for another three-year term was celebrated in his home district Chagai soon after the news about his victory broke.
Members of the Balochistan Awami Party, Khan Sanjrani Panel and residents of Dalbandin, Nokundi, Chagai and Taftan gathered in streets and bazaars for celebration. Sweets were distributed in the areas and traditional dance was performed in Dalbandin and Chagai.
Chairman Sanjrani’s supporters also announced to take out a rally on Saturday (today) in his hometown Nokkundi.
Ali Raza Rind in Chagai also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2021