Spearhead Analysis – 22.03.2018
By Syed Murtaza Zaidi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
The public in Pakistan has been waiting for the forthcoming General Elections with bated breath, in anticipation for what might be a hectic few days, as the leading political parties strive to achieve national supremacy. The country has been going through one political upheaval after another, with controversies and intrigues plaguing every major party in the land, making the results of the upcoming elections very unpredictable. However, many political commentators have been using the results of the recently concluded Senate elections as a blueprint for what is to be expected in the future, and if that is the case, then there is much to look forward to, in the coming months.
The Election Process
The Senate, or the upper house of Parliament, consists of 104 senators, with twenty-three each coming from the four major provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Additionally, eight senators are selected from F.A.T.A, while the remaining four are elected from the capital city of Islamabad.
Senate elections are conducted every three years, with only half the members taking part in the election at any given time. Each senator is scheduled to serve a total of six years and it was the victors from the 2012 Senate elections who were defending their seats from other hopeful candidates in this election cycle. A total 131 people were vying for the fifty-two senate seats that were up for grabs, with nine of them reserved for technocrats, eight reserved for women and two reserved for minorities. Every major political party in Pakistan threw their hats into the ring, but it was the PML-N, PPPP and the PTI that eventually came out on top.
The PML-N Slip-Up
Prior to the senate elections, the PML-N was dealt a huge blow when, on the 21st of February, the Supreme Court announced their decision to remove Nawaz Sharif from his post as head of the party. They argued that since he had been disqualified under the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, he did not have the authority to retain his seat as the Chairman of the party and that any decision taken by him since his disqualification as the country’s premier back in July, 2017, was null and void.
In their judgement they added that “all steps taken, orders passed, directions given and documents issued by Respondent No.4 (Nawaz Sharif) as party head after his disqualification on 28.07.2017 are also declared to have never been taken, passed, given or issued in the eyes of the law. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is accordingly directed to remove the name of Respondent (Nawaz Sharif) as president/party head of Respondent No.3 (PML-N) from all relevant record(s)”.
Consequently, the ECP announced that since Mr. Sharif had no authority over the PML-N’s directive and since he had signed the nomination papers of his party’s prospective nominees for the senate race, all the candidates representing his party would have to appear in the elections as independent nominees.
While the PML-N was very vocal about their disdain for the Supreme Court’s decision, it also put them in a precarious position in the senate race. As evidenced by the embarrassing fracas that led to the resignation of Chief Minister Zehri of Baluchistan, there were already signs that members of the party were willing to go against its directive and engage in horse-trading. Since the ECP had declared them independents, the party could not prevent them from trading their votes to an opposing party’s nominee, and could not sanction them for their duplicity in the future either.
In spite of the major setbacks suffered by the PML-N before the Senate Elections, the party still performed exceedingly well, and became the first party to have more than thirty members in the Upper House in years. They managed to win fifteen seats out of the total fifty-two, taking their total number of seats to thirty-three, while the PTI exceeded expectations and won six seats in the senate, taking their total up to twelve.
However, it was the PPPP that shocked everybody with their impressive performance in the Senate Race. Even though they lost the majority they had previously enjoyed, they performed much better than expected and only managed to lose seven seats, leaving them with the second highest number of seats in the upper house. What was even more impressive was their ability to draw support from the independent candidates, especially from Baluchistan and FATA. They went on to use this support to form an alliance with the PTI, MQM-P, as well as several other fringe parties to nominate independent candidate Sadiq Sanjrani for the post of Senate Chairman and PPP’s own Saleem Mandviwalla for the post of Deputy Chairman.
Both candidates were being challenged by the PML-N’s nominee for Senate Chairman, Raja Zafarul Haq and Pakhtukhwa Milli Awami Party’s (PkMAP) nominee for Deputy Chairman, Usman Khan Kakar. While the PML-N was quite confident that their selections would eventually prove victorious, the ouster of Chief Minister Zehri had already exposed the signs of dissension between party ranks, and even with the support of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), National Party (NP), Awami National Party (ANP) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI); it was the opposing candidates that eventually won the secret ballot.
In the end, the PML-N managed to win a total of 33 seats in the Senate, followed by the PPP with 20, the PTI with 12, the independents with 15 and 5 each for the NP, PkMAP and the MQM. Additionally, the JUI-F also managed to win 4, with the JI winning 2 and the PML-F, ANP, and the BNP-M winning one seat each. Sanjrani also became the first Senator from Baluchistan to hold the office of Senate Chairman, while in a historic moment for minorities in Pakistan, PPP’s Krishna Kohli became only the second Hindu woman in history, and the first to belong to the Dalit caste, to be elected to the Senate of Pakistan.
While the senate elections are perhaps not the best indicator of what is to be expected in the upcoming general elections, it does give us a significant insight into the preparations made by each political party, as well as the cohesion and desire exhibited within the party ranks.
The Chief Minister Zehri episode exposed the division within the PML-N ranks, and many in the party felt that the party leadership did not adequately address the problem or the grievances voiced by its various members. This particular hurdle presented itself once again, with the ECP’s decision to allow PML-N nominated candidates to only appear as independents, excusing them from any party obligations, including who to vote for in the elections for the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Senate.
As a result, the PPP and PTI backed candidates went on to win the vote instead of the candidates supported by the majority party in the Upper House, in yet another embarrassing incident for the PML-N. They now seem to be derailing at a very crucial period of the elections cycle, however, it seems their losses in the Senate have finally brought their problems to the attention of the party leadership. An emergency party meeting was swiftly convened to dissect the various problems plaguing the party in the past few months, as well as to identify and pacify the dissenting voices within the party itself.
It is imperative for the PML-N to iron out these problems before the upcoming elections, as any slip-ups might give the opposition the perfect opportunity to make a significant dent to their majority in their lower house as well. They also need to recognize and accept the emerging reality of two of their major rivals, the PPP and the PTI, willing to work together, despite their own significant differences, in order to combat the influence exerted by the PML-N.
For their part, the PPP and PTI made significant gains, both in reputation and esteem, as they worked together to minimize the threat posed by the PML-N. Imran Khan, perhaps for the first time in his political career, seemed to comprehend the significance of the bi-partisan support provided by the PPP, and was willing to put his personal differences with Asif Ali Zardari to the side, in order to limit PML-N’s power in the Senate. Once that mission was accomplished, it was back to business as usual, as the PTI once again found itself at loggerheads with the PPP over their nomination of long time party stalwart Sherry Rehman, for the seat of Senate opposition leader.
Perhaps the biggest winner after the 2018 Senate elections was the PPP and Asif Ali Zardari himself. Once again Zardari proved himself to be among the shrewdest politicians in the Pakistan political landscape today. Not only did he stem the expected decline in seats his party was to suffer in the senate elections, he also managed to bring together different political factions from across the country to support his cause. The PPP also reminded their opponents of the great influence they still wield, especially in Sindh, and that writing them off just yet might prove to be a mistake in the future.
Just over a year ago, the PML-N was on track to repeat their heroics from the 2013 general elections, and completely dominate the political landscape in the country. However, a series of mishaps and bad decisions has left commentators doubting their ability to repeat that success once again. While all indications lead one to believe that they are still on track to ‘win’ the elections, the great majority they enjoyed in previous years might be jeopardy. Combine that with the knowledge that the PTI and the PPP can, and will, unite if it means countering the PML-N’s influence; the upcoming elections are sure to be ones to watch.