Pakistan Reader# 161, 7 March 2021
The Sunday Brief, 7 March 2021D. Suba Chandran
This week, there were three major developments in Pakistan – the elections for the Senate, a vote of confidence by Imran Khan in the Parliament; and the postponement of the Pakistan Super League.
The Senate Elections: PTI becomes the single largest party, however, it is advantage Opposition
On 3 March 2021, the Senate elections for 48 seats, of the total 100 seats took place. The PTI won the most number of the seats of the 48, winning 18. The PPP won eight seats, and the Balochistan Awami Party (a coalition member of the PTI) won six seats. The PML-N could manage only five seats. While the elections for the above Senate seats took place in all three provinces and Islamabad Capital Territory, there was no election for the 11 seats to be elected from Punjab. All eleven members of the Senate from Punjab were elected unopposed both from the PML-N and the PTI. The biggest setback and gain in the Senate election was for the PTI and PPP respectively from Islamabad; Abdul Hafeez Shaikh the PTI candidate and the current Finance Minister lost to Yousuf Raza Gilani the joint candidate of the Opposition and the former PM belonging to the PPP. Gilani secured 169 votes against Shaikh’s 164.
On 1 March 2021, two days before the Senate elections, the Supreme Court gave its opinion to the Presidential reference on the subject. According to the SC opinion, the elections to the Senate are to be held “under the Constitution” and Article 226, hence through a secret ballot.
On 2 March 2021, on the eve of the elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced that the Senate elections would be held, as has been the case – through a secret ballot.
What is the background?
First, the pre-election setbacks to the PTI. The ruling party was attempting to hold the election through an open ballot. Until now, the Senate elections were held under Article 226, and through a secret ballot. The government filed a Presidential reference and asked the Supreme Court for its opinion, whether the “secret ballot” mentioned in Article 226 of Pakistan’s constitution applies to the elections for the members of the Senate. The Supreme Court gave its opinion under advisory jurisdiction and held that the elections for the Senate to be held under the Constitution; according to Article 226, “All elections under the Constitution, other than those of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, shall be by secret ballot.” The Supreme Court’s decision was a big setback to the PTI. It was hoping to prevent any horse-trading by the opposition, or avoid its members voting for others.
Second, the post-election setbacks. The biggest setback was the failure of the PTI to get its finance minister - Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the party’s candidate elected from Islamabad. He lost to the PPP’s Yousuf Gilani. Though the latter was the joint candidate of the Opposition, from the numbers it appears that the PTI failed to get its members voting in favour of Hafeez Shaikh. Two Senators are to be elected from Islamabad – one from the general category and another one from the women category. Though the PTI could bag the seat from the woman category, it lost the general category seat, the one that mattered the most. Besides the failure to elect Hafeez, another big setback is the final number and how the Senate looks like. The PTI is the single largest party with 25 seats, followed by PPP (21), and PML-N (18). Besides these three major parties, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) has 13 seats, the second largest within the ruling coalition, as it gained from its strong presence in the Balochistan provincial assembly. However, the final tally, after the Senate elections does not favour the PTI; the Opposition has retained the majority in the Senate with 53 seats against the PTI coalition’s 47.
Third, the provincial tallies. In Punjab, there were no surprises, based on the numbers they have in the provincial assembly. Of the eleven seats, the PML-N and the PTI secured five each, while the PML-Q secured one. The biggest setback was to PML-N in Punjab, as it had 17 Senators elected from Punjab. In Sindh, of the eleven seats, PPP won seven seats, followed by two seats each for MQM-P and PTI. In Balochistan, of the eleven seats, the ruling BAP (Balochistan Awami Party) won the maximum number of seats; while it won six, BNP, ANP and JUI-F won one seat each, with two seats won by the independents. In KP, of the twelve seats, the PTI won 10, while the ANP and JUI-F won one seat each. There were no major surprises from the four provinces, but the biggest one, as mentioned above took place in Islamabad.
Fourth, the success of the Opposition and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Voting together jointly has helped the opposition parties led by the PDM to make effective use of their strength. Also, the decision to contest the Senate elections instead of boycotting it, or emphasizing only the long march and street protests – seems to have worked for the opposition. Now, post the elections, the opposition has a majority in the Senate.
Post Senate elections: Imran Khan seeks a vote of confidence and wins it
On 4 March 2021, Imran Khan announced, he would seek a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, following the Senate elections. On the same day, the opposition demanded the resignation of Imran Khan following the party’s failure to secure a win for Abdul Hafiz Sheikh.
On 6 March 2021, a session of the National Assembly was convened, where Imran Khan sought the confidence of the House. The opposition boycotted the session. In the end, Imran Khan won the vote of confidence, with 178 members of the National Assembly voting for him. Of the 178, 155 came from the PTI, while the allies (MQM-P, BAP, PML-Q, GDA, JWP and an independent) making the rest.
What is the background?
First, the vote was not needed procedurally. This was a political vote and not legally needed. Following the loss of Hafiz Sheikh, there were demands from the opposition that he should resign. The question of his resignation has been one of the primary demands of the opposition and has been the rallying point for the PDM. The idea behind Imran seeking the vote of confidence was to silence the critics, and prove a point that he still has the confidence of the Assembly.
Second, the question of procedure. An editorial in Dawn explained the issue: “according to clause 7 of Article 91 of the Constitution, the president “shall not exercise his powers under this clause unless he is satisfied that the prime minister does not command the confidence of the majority” in the Assembly. Does the president feel this is the case? There appears to be confusion about whether the government even followed the correct procedure to call such a session.”
Third, the battle saved, but the war is wide open. By winning the vote of confidence, Imran Khan believes, he had won the battle. Perhaps, he has, in the Parliament, but he has thrown open a large space for the opposition parties outside the Parliament.
Pakistan Super League: Problems of governance to haunt the game, outside the stadium
On 4 March 2021, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) made a formal announcement postponing the sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League, which started in February 2021. The decision to postpone was taken, after a few players and support staff contracting COVID-19. According to a statement by the PCB: “Following a meeting with the team owners and considering the health and wellbeing of all participants is paramount, the Pakistan Cricket Board has decided to postpone the HBL Pakistan Super League 6 with immediate effect. The decision was made after seven cases were reported in the competition, which had started on 20 February.”
What is the background?
First the return of the PSL to Pakistan this year for the sixth edition. For the last few years, it was unfortunate that the matches could not be played within the country due to the security situation. The matches were played primarily in the stadiums of Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. This year, the PSL also witnessed the return of international players in substantial numbers; while the previous games also had international players, this edition had attracted some big names – for example, Chris Gayle from the West Indies and Dale Steyn from South Africa.
Second, the return of international cricket and international cricketers to Pakistan. Not only the PSL matches were played in the Gulf countries, but even the bilateral series that was to be held in Pakistan also took place in the above stadiums. Last year witnessed the return of cricket; from Zimbabwe to South Africa, international teams have started touring Pakistan. The return of international cricket is important to develop the game and improve the local players’ confidence. Playing in local conditions would provide that to the young team that is slowly trying to emerge out of the shadows post-retirement of big names – in both fields – batting and bowling.
Third, the return of the old problem of governance and following the SoPs. Pakistan Cricket Board always have been criticised for lack of professionalism by critics within the country. Given the passion associated with Cricket in Pakistan, and the return of playing conditions and improved security environment, it was imperative for the PCB to have planned for such an outcome, device standard operating procedures (SoPs), and more importantly, implemented ruthlessly. In 2020 also, there was a similar crisis; and during the latest tour of Pakistan to New Zealand, the same issue cropped up – relating to players contracting the virus. Post the postponement, there are multiple stories on how the SoPs were disregarded by the leagues and players, and how they were staying in hotels, where multiple marriages were taking place! There is a serious problem of governance in how the PCB operates.