Last two weeks seem to be advantageous for the PML-N, despite the adversarial political environment. The judiciary passed a highly criticised judgement removing Nawaz Sharif from being the leader of his own faction of the PML. The learned courts were of the view that Nawaz Sharif is not eligible to lead a political party, as he has been disqualified as the Prime Minister and the member of the National Assembly. The courts also made a curious extension. It considered the decisions taken by Nawaz Sharif in nominating members for the Senate for his party as void.
The party has elected Shahbaz Sharif as the new leader and has created a new position for Nawaz – leader for life. Seems, the political void in the PML-N has been successfully addressed. Surprising many, the PML-N also bounced back in the Senate. After the latest election, the PML-N has become the largest party in the Senate, followed by the PPP, independents and the PTI. Outside the Senate election, the PML-N also won a by-election held for one of the provincial assembly seats in Punjab – Sargodha.
This analysis looks at two questions: what happened in the Senate elections? And second, what does this mean for the PML-N and other political parties?
The Senate Elections: A Brief Round-Up
The upper house of the Parliament has 104 seats, with half of the Senators retiring every six years. It is composed of 23 members each from four provinces, eight from FATA and four from the federal capital. Those who got elected in 2012 had to retire in March 2018; the recent elections, in which the PML-N became the largest party in the Senate have to select 52 new Senators.
The 2018 Senate elections have to choose 12 each from Punjab and Sindh, 11 each from KP and Balochistan, four from the FATA and two from the federal capital – Islamabad. While the other political parties have nominated a list of candidates, the PML-N candidates have to contest as independents, because of the judicial verdict, that made their nominations void, because it was done by Nawaz Sharif. The parties have made their nominations keeping in mind their strength in the national parliament and the provincial legislatures. Besides the parties, there were other independent candidates as well.
Though all parties have accused the other of horse-trading, the elections were held smoothly.
There were a few surprises in the election results. In Punjab, the PML-N could secure 11 seats for the Senate; the lonely seat that the PTI has secured from Punjab has raised few eyebrows within the PML-N. Obviously, few provincial legislators belonging to the PML-N in Punjab have voted for a PTI candidate.
There is already an internal query within the PML-N on the above issue; but, this should not be a cause for a big worry for the PML-N. Nor can the PTI take any solace.
In Sindh, there was a surprise, though it was also predicted. The PPP has secured ten out of the 12 seats from Sindh. It was surprising, because the PPP does not have that kind of support in the Sindh legislative assembly. But, the MQM's bad show was predicted – leading to PPP gaining some support from the former. The MQM is deeply divided into two factions led by Khalid Siddiqui and Farooq Sattar. Though there was a last minute patch-up between the two camps on the Senate elections, perhaps it was too little and too late. Clearly, a section of the MQM legislators from Sindh have voted for the PPP.
Does the above pose a problem for the MQM and becomes an advantage for the PPP? Appears so. If the MQM legislators are likely to vote for the PPP candidates, can the MQM supporters and sympathisers voting for the PPP in the forthcoming general election be far-fetched?
The MQM factions need to watch their next moves. Divided, they are going to fall faster in Sindh and lose Karachi. Will the PPP gain the MQM loss in Karachi, or will it be the PTI?
KP was another surprise, for everyone expected the PTI to mobilize its own voters and also others – especially the independents and smaller parties to vote for it. Of the 11 Senate seats, PTI could secure five; PML-N and PPP could secure two seats each, and the JI and JUI-F one each. Given the PTI strength in the KP, the party and those individuals that it supported, for example, Samiul Haq (leader of his own faction of the JUI) should have got elected. The PTI will have to do some serious analysis to find out what had happened in KP.
What was also surprising was the two seats that the PPP secured in KP.
Balochistan should be considered a disaster for the PML-N. It was unfortunate that the party had to face a revolt within in Balochistan, leading to a narrow split within the PML-N inside the provincial assembly. As a result, the PML-N could not get a single seat. The fact that there were more independents (six out of the total 11) shows the unstable political arithmetic inside the Balochistan provincial assembly. PkMAP and NP could get two seats each, while the JUI-F could get one. The PPP got none; PML-N could have certainly got around five seats, had there been no revolt within the party.
What does the Senate election mean?
For the PML-N, the Senate election is more than mere numbers – for two simple reasons. First, it took place in the immediate aftermath of judiciary disqualifying Nawaz Sharif from being the party leader as well, and also making his PML-N nominations as void. The party candidates had to contest as elections. Despite that the PML-N showing should be encouraging for the Sharif brothers.
As mentioned above, the Senate elections also took place in the background of what had happened recently in the Baloch legislative assembly. A section even considers that the political crisis was engineered with a purpose to keep the PML-N at bay in the Senate elections. Fortunately for the PML-N, that has not happened.
The PML-N today is the single largest party in the Senate. Along with it allies and friends (JUI-F, PkMAP and NP) and some independents, the PML-N should be able to get a majority in the Senate. This number is important, for further election for the position of Senate Chairman. The PPP, being the second largest party in the Senate is expected to give a tough fight. Many expect that the PPP will nominate Sherry Rehman as its candidate to the Senate Chairman. However, the PML-N has a clear edge; unless, the Sharif brothers strike a deal with the PPP to have the Senate Chairman from the opposition.
What about the PTI in the Senate? For the first time, the PTI has succeeded in having its presence in double digits. It has 12 Senators; with that number – it can neither get its candidate elected as the Chairman, nor can it play the role of a kingmaker.
Clearly, the biggest beneficiary of the latest Senate elections is the PML-N. First, it increases its tally within the Senate, and becomes the largest party. Second, it is likely to boost the morale of the party. The appointment of Shahbaz Sharif as the party leader, winning the seat in Lodhran bye-election for the National Assembly from the PTI, and the latest win for the provincial assembly seat in Sargodha – all should boost the PML-N and get ready for the next elections.
For the PPP, the votes it secured in Sindh should be a sign of things to come. Clearly, the MQM has been its greatest rival in Sindh, especially the urban areas. The Senate elections highlight the complete disarray within the MQM factions, providing an opening for the PPP. Zardari being a shrewd politician is bound to reap more from the MQM crisis. However, in the context Karachi, one cannot totally discount the PTI as well. With Karachi being the largest Pashtun city in the world, the PTI is also likely to eat into the MQM votes. What does this mean for the future of Karachi and its political stability? An interesting question indeed.
In KP, how did the PPP able to secure two seats in the Senate? Is there a problem with the PTI? This is another interesting question.
That leaves Balochistan. The fact that the independents can get more votes than any established political party says a lot about the party politics in one of the most troubled provinces of Pakistan. Is there more trouble for Balochistan in the next election as well?
The author is a Professor and a Dean at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore. He edits an annual - Armed Conflicts in South Asia and maintains a portal on Pakistan – www.pakistanreader.org.
The above brief was first published in the Rising Kashmir