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PPP makes gains in Senate polls

March 02, 2012

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif casts his vote during Senate Elections held at provincial assembly building in Lahore on Friday. – Photo by PPI.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's ruling party made gains in the country's upper house of parliament in legislative elections on Friday, a boost for beleaguered President Asif Ali Zardari in his long-running conflict with the country's top court and it’s military.

By late evening, Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) appeared to be on course to get control of the Senate, giving him valuable political firepower for several years to come. The results were expected, given the PPP's lower house majority and strong presence in provincial legislatures, which elect the senators.

Just surviving to Senate elections was an achievement for the government, which has faced relentless political attacks since it took office in 2008. Like others before it, it has largely failed to make any progress in fixing the daunting challenges facing Pakistan, and has been mired in alleged corruption and mismanagement.

Some rivals had hoped that Zardari would be forced into calling early general elections, be ousted by the Supreme Court or even subject to a coup before the Senate vote could be held.

About half of the 104 senators are being replaced because their terms have come to an end.

The votes were still being counted, but the PPP and its allies won 32 out of 49 seats; five seats were yet to be announced.

The Senate can block legislation and takes part in any impeachment proceedings. Senators serve for six years.

Elections for Pakistan's lower house of parliament are likely to take place later this year. The PPP, elected on the back of a sympathy vote following the assassination of Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, in 2007, is not expected to do so well this time around.

The Supreme Court is currently trying to force Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, a PPP politician, to initiate corruption proceedings against Zardari. Gilani has refused, and is facing contempt charges that could see him imprisoned and lose his job.

The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for much of its history, is also widely believed to want to see Zardari leave office. It is supporting a separate court probe into a memo sent to Washington last year asking for its help in clipping the wings of the army, which some have suggested could see treason charges filed against Zardari.