How do the Senate elections work?

The Senate has remained dysfunctional since March 11 following the retirement of 52 lawmakers.
Published April 2, 2024

Election season in Pakistan is almost over. There’s one last puzzle piece needed to complete the big picture: the Senate.

Senate elections are set to be held on April 2 (today), with a total of 48 seats up for grabs.

After this, the Parliament of Pakistan (Majlis-i-Shoora) will be complete. The parliament consists of three elements: the president — Asif Ali Zardari was elected last month; the National Assembly — which was sworn in late February; and the Senate.

Not sure what Senate elections are and how they work? We’ll explain what happens.

The basics

To begin with, the Senate — which is the upper house of parliament — consists of 96 lawmakers. The reason only 48 seats are up for grabs is because half of the senators are elected at one time, and the other half three years later. Each senator serves a term of six years, barring resignation, disqualification or other extraordinary circumstances.

The Senate used to have 104 lawmakers, but the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the 25th amendment reduced the members from 104 to 100 in 2021, and from 100 to 96 in 2024.

Therefore, the upcoming Senate elections will see a total of 48 new senators join the upper house; 12 each from Punjab and Sindh, 11 each from KP and Balochistan and two from Islamabad.

In Sindh and Balochistan, seven of the seats are general seats, two are for women, two are for technocrats/Ulema and one is for non-Muslims. In KP and Balochistan, the same formula is followed minus the one seat for non-Muslims. In Islamabad, things are a little different, with only one general seat and one seat for technocrats/Ulema.

Although 48 seats are up for grabs, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will only conduct elections on 30 seats since 18 senators from Punjab and Balochistan have been elected unopposed.

The Senate has remained dysfunctional since March 11 following the retirement of 52 lawmakers.

One thing to note is that if the office of the President becomes vacant — yes, the President can be impeached — then the Senate Chairman becomes acting president until election for the position is held again.

How do Senate elections work?

To contest Senate elections, the candidate must be a Pakistani citizen, at least 30 years of age, and a registered voter of the province/region they’re contesting from, besides fulfilling other requirements required laid down in Article 62 of the Constitution.

Today’s polling will begin at 9am and conclude at 4pm.

Polling takes place in the four respective provincial assemblies, and for the federal capital seats, polling takes place in the National Assembly.

The Senate elections are not direct elections, so you won’t be participating in the voting process (unless you’re an MPA or MNA). The process is known as secret balloting.

Voters come up to polling booths and cast their vote one by one.

Also unlike the General election, the voting system used in the Senate election is not the ‘first past the post’ system. (First past the post system: whoever gets the highest number of votes is the winner.)

Instead, the ‘single transferable vote’ system of proportional representation is used.

What is the single transferable vote?

Under the single transferable vote system, voters cast a single ballot which mentions all the candidates they would like to see elected in order of their personal priority or preference (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on).

Each of these votes has a value. A quota calculated by the ECP determines how many votes each candidate needs to be considered elected.

The votes received by each candidate are tallied in each count. When a candidate receives enough votes to cross the quota, the extra value of his or her votes is transferred down to lower priority candidates (in the order mentioned by the voters).

The candidates who receive the fewest votes are eliminated and their votes are transferred to other candidates in the order of preference mentioned by their voters.

The process of transferring votes from successful and eliminated candidates continues until all vacant seats are filled.

The quota needed to be elected as a senator varies depending on which assembly and which seat the candidate is contesting for.

For example, for a candidate from Balochistan fighting for the general seat, the required number of votes to win a general seat is 9.

A Senate hopeful from Punjab, on the other hand, will need 47 votes from the Punjab Assembly to win a general seat. This difference in the required number of votes is due to the different size of the two assemblies.

Predictions for today?

PTI is set to be the largest party in the Senate, having 20 senators at present and the potential to win 7 more seats, bringing the party’s tally to 27.

The PTI has, however, announced a boycott of the Senate elections in Sindh, alleging that pre-poll rigging could lead to the unopposed victory of all 12 candidates from the province, where the PPP enjoys majority.

PPP comes in a close second, with 25 seats. The party already has 13 seats and is projected to win 12 more. Coming in third is PML-N, with a predicted total 20 seats, of which 13 are already senators.