ANOTHER dispiriting week. The scramble isn’t a problem, especially since it has turned into a melee. But the reasons animating the scramble and perpetuating it are hardly edifying.
What’s at stake in the Senate?
It’s not as complicated as it seems, or shouldn’t have been. The PML-N is well ahead of the rest, though well short of a majority. That has been carved into stone since 2013.
The assemblies are fixed, in a static sense, and the maths isn’t all that complicated. Minus the class of 2012, elected by the 2008 assemblies, and double the class of 2015, elected by the 2013 assemblies.
Nawaz doesn’t really seem to have much of an idea what to do with the strong numbers in the Senate, how to translate it into political advantage.
For the N-League, that meant a net gain of roughly nine, carrying the party to the mid-30s. The ambush in Balochistan shaved off a few seats and the collapse of MQM in Sindh gave the PPP what the PML-N could have negotiated with.
But nothing fundamental had changed. Except for one thing.
Absent that one thing, the outcome was preordained. The N-League and its allies would have enough votes to elect whoever Nawaz picked as Senate chairman. Even now they’ve got the votes.
The whip is less of a problem in the Senate too. There’re fewer Senators — 104 to the National Assembly’s 342 and the mammoth 371 in Punjab — and a whole lot of them are not constituency politicians, who can be harder to corral.
The absence of a single-party majority was always going to make things more colourful, but it didn’t have to be this wretched. And it’s been wretched for a simple reason.
The system wants Nawaz out.
The only thing that changed between the 2015 Senate election and the 2018 Senate election is that. All of this, all the running around and pow-wowing and press conferencing and statement issuing, has been just to try and deny Nawaz his choice of Senate chairman.
And for what?
That’s where it gets really unedifying. Power seeks power. And politicians with power seek to either hang on to it or get more of it. An election means a winner and toys to be distributed.
The biggest toy available right now is Senate chairman.
All of which is fine. If anyone thinks that the other institutions don’t squabble or contend over their toys, they may want to look again.
Among the boys, the end of Musharraf, Kayani and Raheel gave us a peek into internal, institutional impatience with a chap who stuck around too long, another who grabbed an extension for himself and a third who tried and failed.
Go, go, go — your time is up. Loyalty to the institution does not mean the negation of personal ambition and no rivalry with your peers.
Same thing with the judges. Chief Justice of Pakistan is an automatic, seniority-based selection and elevation to the Supreme Court is on a relatively fixed pattern.
But anyone who is anyone and those who aspire to be become someone in legal circles keep track of retirements and elevations. Hop on the carousel at just the right moment and you may get to the Supreme Court and become CJP one day.
And why not? Create a crown and you’ll automatically get contenders.
Same with the Senate. Senate chairman is up for grabs and everyone wants to see if they have a chance. But this time around everyone felt they had a chance because the top dog is in trouble.
That’s what all the wacky combinations and unlikely meetings have been about. Behind the scenes, it’s been even worse.
It’s also reconfirmed the worst tendencies of all the big players.
Nawaz tends to get in his own way, makes things tougher than they have to be. Zardari is clearly in no mood to repeat that cooperation that got the Senate chairman elected in 2015.
Partly because there’s a general election imminent and partly because the boys have deepened their involvement in Karachi and Sindh.
PML-N plus National Party, PkMAP and JUI-F amount to a near majority in the Senate. A handful of independents are not impossible to win over.
The N-League had an opportunity to project strength and confidence, a nice little fillip going into the campaign season proper. All the better given the forces arrayed against the party.
Instead, floating silly ideas and holding anxious meetings is what Nawaz has done. A strong position has been made to look weaker than it is.
Worse, Nawaz doesn’t really seem to have much of an idea what to do with the strong numbers in the Senate, how to translate it into political advantage. Rare is the consistent winner who can be so politically clumsy.
But Nawaz is just that.
Zardari too couldn’t help himself. Nawaz reaching out was a moment to negotiate something for Team Zardari. But his irritation at still living in the shadow of BB and determination to purge the party of everyone who was allied with her got the better of him.
Zardari likes politics too much to step away from it, that’s obvious enough. But his obsession with dominating the PPP, remaking the party in the likeness of himself, gets in the way of what’s probably good for the PPP.
Self before party is not unusual nor new. But the mask slipping was not what Zardari needed right now. Ego got in the way.
And then there’s Imran.
His path to power is a right-wing alliance with the help of the boys. But it also needs discipline and focus. So, another week, another round of Imran seemingly capable of going off in any direction only to end up with no direction.
It’s been another dispiriting week.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2018