Friday, March 6, 2015
Daily Times Editorial March 7, 2015
Senate elections Despite a welter of confusion, largely induced by the ruling PML-N, the Senate elections for 48 seats of the retiring Senators did not live up to the hype in the run up to the polling of ‘widespread’ horse-trading, bribery and rigging. Most of the polling in the provincial and National Assemblies proceeded fairly smoothly. The exceptions to this general trend were the fiasco surrounding the FATA Senate elections, the scuffles in the morning between rival party members that led to the postponement for five hours and eventual extension of polling time in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly, and the ‘dent’ in the PML-N’s ranks when the PPP’s Nadeem Afzal Chann garnered about 10 more votes than his party’s strength. The FATA MNAs, 11 in number, were accosted when they arrived to cast their votes with utter confusion engendered by the government’s midnight issuance of a presidential ordinance that restricted the votes of FATA MNAs to one instead of the usual four. The FATA MNAs ran from pillar to post, including to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), to clarify what procedure to follow. The ECP was as clueless as anyone else, and after a whimpering response, recommended to the government to rescind the ordinance since under its provisions, the FATA Senate elections could not be held since the four Senators they were to elect could not be returned on the basis of one vote by each MNA. Latest reports say the FATA Senate elections have been indefinitely postponed until the mess is sorted out. Confusion also attended the KP Assembly polling since rival parties, especially the opposition, complained that the treasury members were not following the rules. This led to hot words and even scuffles being exchanged, which eventually persuaded the Provincial Election Commissioner (PEC) to halt the polling for about five hours. After negotiations between Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and the PEC, polling was resumed in the late afternoon, the time extended, and the polling finally completed late at night. If at all the PML-N’s ill thought through attempt to get the 22nd constitutional amendment passed on the eve of the Senate elections made any sense, it may be said to be reflected in the fact that the PPP’s Chann got 10 more votes than expected, leading to speculation as to who in the PML-N ranks may have voted against the party. An inquiry has been ordered, but may not reveal the ‘turncoats’. This should, despite the limited damage done because Chann did not win despite the windfall, persuade the PML-N leadership to pay more attention to their estranged MPAs. Of the 48 seats up for contention, the PML-N clean swept the Punjab’s 11 seats, the Chann episode notwithstanding, as expected. PPP and MQM combined to divide the Sindh 11 senate seats 7-4 between them. The new entrant into the Senate, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTIO) got five of the 12 seats up for grabs in KP. The rest were scattered amongst the other parties. Balochistan saw the ruling coalition get the most seats, nine of the 12 available, despite the surprise defeat of the PML-N’s Sardar Yaqub Khan Nasir. The end result of this confused and confusing exercise is that the PML-N fell short of getting a majority and, despite the PPP losing its previous majority, the two largest mainstream parties came out on top with the PPP having 27 and the PML-N 26 seats in the new Senate. This implies a hot contest for the Chairman and Deputy Chairman slots ahead. Despite the rigging apprehensions before the polls and the confusion in certain respects that attended the vote casting, some observers claim this is the cleanest Senate election ever. Of course, as usual, Imran Khan disagreed in his press conference on Friday, where once again he indulged his penchant for hurling allegations against all and sundry without feeling in any way burdened by the need to provide proofs. No one claims the democratic process in Pakistan is perfect. But if a reasonably clean Senate election has been conducted, the political class, whose elected members to the new Senate read like a Who’s Who of politics, can perhaps justly pat itself on the back and offer the riposte to its critics that the horse-trading allegations were over-hyped.