Beyond Senate poll

Published March 15, 2021

THE election for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman on Friday has accentuated the crisis of credibility swirling around Pakistani politics. It has also deepened the fault lines between the government and the opposition and is likely to lead to greater acrimony in the coming weeks. While both slots were won by candidates of the government, the opposition’s refusal to accept the results due to what it says is faulty ruling by the presiding officer rejecting seven votes for their candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani means the election will now be subjected to a gruelling legal battle.

The Senate elections this year have been marred by multiple controversies all leading to a dismal conclusion that political parties are unable, or unwilling, to frame the basic rules of the game and then adhere to them in letter and spirit. The discovery of hidden cameras in the main Senate hall was a travesty that could not have been imagined — and yet it happened in broad daylight for the whole world to see.

The summary rejection of the votes by the presiding officer was also done rather crudely and is now being challenged for reasons that appear to have some weight. The no-holds barred fight between the government and the opposition is wreaking havoc across institutions, processes, traditions, and even the basic values of right and wrong. It paints a picture of a system in peril. It is difficult to visualise how a semblance of normalcy can be returned to our politics and how adversaries can build a basic minimum working relationship. Every day brings new controversies.

The Senate elections also illustrated our inability to hold a simple and straightforward election. A sum total of 100 votes were to be cast in the upper house of parliament and not in some backwater polling station. We could not even manage this with consensus. If this is the state of our electoral capability, how would we be able to hold a national election in the near future? Before that, how will we be able to conduct a local bodies poll that has many times more candidates than a general election? The state of affairs is indeed worrisome and unless some urgent steps are taken to frame a common understanding of how to move forward, we could be heading into an uncertain political future.

The Senate election has however presented an opportunity to both sides to cooperate. The issue of the hidden cameras is to be probed by a committee comprising members from the treasury and opposition benches. These members should get to the bottom of this mystery, identify those responsible and take appropriate action. If they are not willing to even protect the dignity of the house they belong to then it would be hard to imagine how they can shoulder the heavy responsibility of representing an entire nation.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2021

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