Senate elections

Published April 3, 2024

THE Senate returned to almost its full strength yesterday after an unusually sedate election. Unfortunately, polling for KP’s seats could not be held due to an ongoing stand-off between the provincial government and the ECP over reserved seats.

Meanwhile, there were few reports of the feverish wheeling-dealing and horse-trading that have, in the past, marred the conduct of Senate polls, which are held every three years to elect half of the total strength of the Upper House.

All of the candidates for Balochistan’s seats were declared winners unopposed, while in Punjab, the PTI, PML-N, and PPP reportedly reached an understanding that allowed its seven general seats to be filled without contest. Punjab’s five remaining seats — two for women, two for technocrats, and one for minorities — were all grabbed by the PML-N, thanks to its majority in the provincial assembly. In Sindh, the PPP secured all seats but two, which went to the MQM-P and Faisal Vawda, respectively.

Considering the drama surrounding the general election that took place just about two months earlier, the Senate election, at least on the face of it, managed to steer clear of any serious controversies. However, one need only look at the list of returned candidates to begin wondering whether the same forces and considerations prevailed.

For example, both the caretaker prime minister and chief minister of Punjab, who supposedly do not have any party affiliation, managed to secure a seat each, unopposed. The speculation was that they were rewarded for the ‘services’ they had rendered. The PML-N sacrificed a loyalist’s seat for former bureaucrat Ahad Cheema, while ‘independent’ candidate Faisal Vawda magically won the PPP’s support for his candidature at the last minute, despite having nothing obvious to offer in return. Observers naturally connected his good fortune to friends in high places.

These elections also seemed like the end of an era in some respects. The PPP sidelined long-time loyalists and seasoned politicians like Raza Rabbani and Waqar Mehdi when handing out tickets, while the PML-N was forced to ignore stalwarts like Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Khurram Dastgir and Javed Latif while handing its seats over to outsiders.

Finally, a comment on these Senate elections would not be complete without a word on how far-reaching the consequences of interfering in general elections can be. For example, the quarrel over public representation triggered by the ECP’s ‘bat verdict’ still rages and resulted in elections for KP’s seats being delayed yesterday.

And, because Senate seats are generally apportioned based on each party’s strength in their respective assemblies, one could not help but be reminded of the controversies that still surround how these assemblies were formed. One can only hope that all this legislative power, now secured, will not be abused.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

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