Pakistan Reader# 163, 14 March 2021
If the election of Yousuf Raza Gillani of the PPP as the Senator vis-à-vis Abdul Hafeez Shaikh of the PTI was the focus of Senate elections last week, this week, the focus was on the defeat of the former in the election to the Chairperson of the Senate. Despite being nominated as the joint candidate of the Opposition, and having the required numbers, Gillani failed to get elected as the Chairman of the Senate.
On 12 March (Friday), following the induction of 48 new Senators, following the Senate elections held during the previous week, an election was held for two positions in the Senate - the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman.
The PTI nominated Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani and Mirza Muhammad Afridi for the posts of Chairman and Deputy Chairman respectively; both won, despite the PTI having only 47 votes. The former received 48, while the latter received 54. The presiding officer considered seven votes, that were cast in favour of Gillani as invalid, on a technical issue.
On 13 March, the PDM has announced that it would approach the Supreme Court. Outside, the PDM has announced to go ahead with its long march against the government.
What are the issues?
First, the numbers on the eve of the election, and the candidates. The Opposition had 51 votes, while the ruling PTI coalition only 47. Two Senators – one each from the PML-N and JI did not take place in the elections at all. Given the numbers, the election should have been straight forward. For the Chairman post, Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani was the candidate supported by the ruling PTI. He was elected to the Senate in 2018 as an independent from Balochistan, and also elected as the Senate Chairman. In the 2018 election, Sanjrani defeated PML-N’s Raja Zafar-ul-Haq. In 2018, the PPP supported Sanjrani against the PML-N’s Haq. Now, the situation is different, with the PPP and PML-N forming the Pakistan Democratic Movement, and nominating Yusuf Raza Gilani, as the joint candidate of the Opposition. Gillani, a former Prime Minister (2008-12), belongs to the PPP. He was recently elected as a Senator, during the last week’s elections from Islamabad against PTI’s Hafeez Shaikh.
For the Deputy Chairman post, the PDM had nominated Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. He belongs to the JUI-F. The PTI had nominated Mirza Muhammad Afridi, an independent Senator from the erstwhile FATA.
Second, the elections on 19 March, and the mystery of seven votes. According to the Presiding Officer, Gillani received only 42 votes, as seven seats cast in his favour were considered invalid. Sanjrani received 48 and has been declared as the Chairman of the Senate. The seven votes were rejected on a technicality, on where they were stamped on the ballot. For the Deputy Chairman post, Mirza Muhammad Afridi had won 53 votes, seven more than what was expected. So, the question today is whether the same seven Senators, whose votes were found invalid for the Chairman post, also vote for the Deputy Chairman? Or, was it a coincidence?
Third, was there a conspiracy? The Opposition parties led by the PDM had a meeting at the highest level between Zardari, Fazlur Rahman and Nawaz Sharif, and had announced that they would contest the results in the Court. Did the Presiding Officer make a wrong decision in considering the seven votes as invalid? Or, was there a conspiracy by the Senate Secretariat? On 13 March, the Opposition has accused the Secretary of Senate Secretariat of misleading the Senators. According to a leader belonging to the PPP, they had asked the Secretary where to stamp. Dawn quotes him: “We asked him that often it happens that a voter puts stamps on the name of the candidate — these were the exact words — so is that vote valid or invalid. And the secretary said that the vote [would be] completely valid because the stamp is inside the box.” There is also a larger accusation, regarding the installation of secret cameras before the election on 12 March.
Fourth, did seven Senators deliberately stamped at the wrong place making their votes invalid for Gillani, but stamped in the right place for Afridi (Deputy Chairman)? There is a discrepancy of Sanjrani receiving only 48 votes, whereas Afridi receiving 54 votes. Did they vote on their own, or was there pressure from outside? A few reports today in the media talked about PML-N Senators getting phone calls from intelligence officers, asking them to vote in favour of a particular candidate. If this is true, then the larger question would be: did Establishment play any role in the Senate elections?
Fifth, what next for the PDM? The leaders of the Opposition have already announced to challenge the decision of the presiding officer in considering the seven votes invalid. Do the Courts have the authority to intervene in the case? Fazlur Rahman, leader of the PDM has announced that mass resignation as the only option to pressurize the PTI government to resign. While the PML-N and other smaller parties may be keen to go ahead with mass resignations to apply pressure on the PTI, the PPP is not. PPP is the only opposition party, that has formed a government at the provincial level in Sindh. None of the other parties is a part of any government at the federal and provincial levels. So PPP has more to lose than the other parties of the PDM in pursuing mass resignation and long march.
Sixth, where does the Establishment stand? Though the PTI has been parroting that the government and the Establishment are on the same page, a section considers they are not. According to one theory, the Establishment is not too happy with the PTI; and the recent judgements on Senate elections and NA-75 by-poll by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan respectively, are more than a coincidence. However, the Establishment continues to support, as there is no other alternative as of now. Another theory considers, that the PPP is attempting to present itself as an alternative to the PTI. Given the fact that the PPP’s position is nuanced within the PDM, and that Zardari has not gone against the Establishment as Nawaz Sharif has, this section feels that Zardari is trying to project Bilawal Bhutto as a new face, and PPP as an alternative.
PS: Does the above sound bizarre? Those who follow Pakistan closely would be cautious to assert how politics work. On 12 March 2021, I thought the Senate elections, given the number should have been straightforward and Gillani should win.