Saturday, March 3, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 4, 2012

Senate elections

After its good showing in the by-polls, the ruling PPP has triumphed in the Senate elections, winning 19 of the seats on offer. Its strength in the upper house has now climbed to 41 from the previous 27, taking account of retiring senators. This makes the PPP the largest party in the Senate by a fair margin in a house of 104. The next strongest, the PML-N, has boosted its strength to 14 after winning eight seats, ANP to 12 after seven seats accrued to it, MQM and JUI-F are now both at seven, PML-Q at five, BNP-Awami at four, PML-F and the National Party at one each, with the tally being rounded off by 12 independents. Two senators from Islamabad and four from FATA also join the reconstituted house. Of the 54 seats being contested, nine candidates were elected unopposed. The PPP-led coalition's strength is now 70, with some support expected from independents. This is the two-thirds majority that gives the coalition the possibility of having enough strength in the upper house to ensure any constitutional amendments it may move will sail through the upper house. There can be no gainsaying the fact that the results represent a victory for the PPP and its allies, with the Senate opposition now fielding 22 members.
The PPP-led coalition’s victory is made even sweeter if one recalls the air of uncertainty that surrounded the very holding of these elections for months. Rumours and speculations went so far as to assert that the government would be unseated before the Senate elections to prevent the PPP cashing in on a delayed victory on the basis of the 2008 election results. While both victors and runner ups can rightly give themselves a pat on the back for ensuring the conduct of the Senate elections, there are disturbing reports of shenanigans and anomalies. Vote buying has been alleged, and enormous sums of money quoted, but these things are notoriously difficult to pin down, let alone prove. If the allegations have even a grain of truth in them, they represent a blot on the fair face of democracy. We are of course accustomed to enormous sums of money being spent in general elections, a factor that for all purposes has shut the general elections door on all but the vastly endowed with riches. The Senate represents, if there is any, hope that people of merit would be able to find their way to the house and correct the ‘lopsided’ concentration of the rich and famous in parliament. However, on the basis of this Senate election, that cannot be claimed with confidence, the choice along party lines and with seat adjustments between allied parties being the dominant characteristic of these polls.
The unexpected victory of Mohsin Leghari, an independent candidate who had defied his party’s refusal to offer him a ticket, and the consequent defeat of veteran PPP worker Aslam Gill has set off a series of recriminations inside the ranks of the PPP. The disappointed PPP members’ wrath is directed at Babar Awan, who managed his own election but is being blamed for Gill’s defeat. The episode points to dark horses and shifting loyalties within every party, to which the PPP now appears not to be an exception.
While seven general seats from Balochistan have had their results delayed because of objections, that conundrum will be resolved through a vote recount and the results should be available on March 5. It is unlikely that the final result from Balochistan will materially alter the shape of the house. The triumph of the ruling coalition should also be seen as the triumph of democracy, the nascent system finding new roots and strength, albeit in halting fashion and not without setbacks, criticism and introspection. Pakistan’s future lies in consolidating the democratic system rather than dwelling unnecessarily on the undoubted failings of the present ruling coalition. Democracy is about more than the present dispensation. It is about setting the rules of the political game along acceptable parameters and ensuring the all too frequent interruptions of the process in our history are not repeated.

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