The elections for the Senate Chairman draw near, and machinations are thick in the air.
As political delegations speed across the country to woo Senators and their respective parties, the speculation regarding the possible combinations and permutations in the Senate also gathers pace.
The opposition alliance, buoyed by a wafer-thin majority won against the numbers in the Senate elections, stands confident in its ability to nab both seats and cement its control of the Upper House. Meanwhile, the government alliance, smarting at being outplayed in the polls, is looking to roar back into the contest with an upset of its own.
The government has nominated the incumbent Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani for a second term; he will be going up against Yousaf Raza Gillani, the former Prime Minister jointly nominated by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).
PDM has nominated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) lawmaker Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri for the Deputy Chairman slot while offering the position of Opposition Leader in the Senate to the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). This arrangement sees all major parties of the PDM being represented in important positions in the Senate.
In a surprising turn of events the government alliance has offered Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri the position of Deputy Chairman on its own ticket as well – complicating the calculations needed to be made and positing a tough challenge for each factions’ allegiances. With these moves in place, let us see how the election will pan out.
The government coalition – which includes the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) – has a total of 47 Senators behind it.
The opposition – consisting of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Balochistan National Party – Mengal (BNP-M), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), National Party (NP) and Awami National Party – has a total of 53 Senators behind it.
Discounting Ishaq Dar, who has not taken oath and is in self-imposed exile, the opposition has 52 seats out of a possible 99.
Can the government stage an upset?
On the face of it, assuming all parties vote their declared allegiances, the opposition is set to win an easy victory, albeit with a thin majority. However, considering the voting for Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman is done through secret balloting, there is no way to ensure Senators will actually vote on party lines.
This is where the government’s offer to nominate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri for the position of Deputy Chairman becomes relevant. It is an overt attempt at enticing the JUI-F to switch sides, in exchange for a confirmed position. The JUI-F’s 5 seats in the Senate will be enough to tip the scales in the favour of the government; reversing the 47 to 52 count. However, considering that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is the Chairman of the PDM and a vocal critic of Imran Khan – who for his part minces no words in his opposition for the Maulana – it is unlikely that the party will make such a drastic switch, especially since it has already nominated its candidate for the position through the opposition.
Yet, the government’s intention of enticing opposition Senators away from their benches is clear as day, and while JUI-F might not be amenable for such a public switch in loyalties, smaller parties – such as ANP which elected two Senators with the aid of government allies – and loosely affiliated independents might not be so scrupulous.
Furthermore, one cannot discount the possibility that between now and March 12, even staunch members of the opposition alliance can change their votes without stating their intentions publicly. Yousaf Raza Gillani’s victory over Hafeez Shaikh is a testament to the fact that majorities should not be counted on till the results are actually in.
Will the PTI attempt to break away Senators from the opposition remains to be seen; a question that gains more importance once we consider the party’s recent criticisms of this exact same practice.
With one shock result witnessed on March 3rd, we shouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan’s turbulent politics offers up yet another.