With the announcement by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of the Senate elections schedule, all the rumours, speculations, kite-flying and resultant uncertainty seem set to be put to rest. The election for 52 of the total 104 seats in the upper house would be held on March 3, 2018. The incumbent members on these seats are retiring on March 11, with some of them facing difficulties in returning to the house. The ECP will issue the detailed schedule for the Senate elections on February 2 but has seen fit to provide the media with the approved procedure, perhaps with a view to scotching the whirlwind of speculation surrounding this election. According to the shared schedule, the returning officer will issue a public notice on February 3 inviting nomination papers, which can be filed till February 6. After completion of the scrutiny of the nomination papers by February 9, a list of valid candidates will be issued on February 15. Candidates can withdraw their nominations by February 16. The newly elected Senators will take their oath of office on March 12. The Senate comprises 23 members from each of the four provinces, eight from FATA and four from Islamabad Capital Territory. Of each province’s quota of 23 seats, 14 are general and nine reserved seats. Of the latter, four seats are reserved for women, four for technocrats and one for a non-Muslim. Half of the Senators having a total term of six years retire every three years. The provincial Assemblies vote for their representatives in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. Senators for Islamabad are elected by the National Assembly while FATA Senators are elected by the MNAs from FATA. Notable amongst those retiring on March 11 are Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, whose stewardship of the upper house has gained greater respect for the Senate, its functioning and views. Apart from Rabbani, the list includes former finance minister Ishaq Dar, PPP’s Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan, Taj Haider and Farhatullah Babar, PTI’s Azam Khan Swati and MQM’s Colonel (retd) Tahir Hussain Mashhadi. These heavyweights will be part of the list of retirees that includes all four PML-Q Senators, nine of the PML-N’s 27 members, 18 of the PPP’s 26, five of the ANP’s six, four of the MQM’s eight, two BNP-A, three of the five JUI-F, five of the 10 independents, and one each of the PTI and PML-F.
Now that the die is cast for the Senate elections, it is time to lay all the rumours and conspiracy theories about these elections being sabotaged to deny the PML-N a possible majority in the upper house to rest. It goes without saying that if the PML-N also wins the general elections in August this year, its ability to have legislation go through both houses with relative ease will be enhanced. But even more important, the fact that the schedule indicates a continuity of the democratic electoral process is cause for satisfaction. Our history provides ample proof of the negative consequences of truncating the natural evolution of democracy, an enterprise that takes time and patience. The upcoming election could, according to some reports, throw open the floodgates of horse-trading, a malign phenomenon witnessed in past Senate elections too. Already, the abrupt ousting of the PML-N-led coalition government in Balochistan headed by former chief minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has engendered much speculation about whether this was an establishment-driven move to abort the Senate elections or owed itself to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari in retaliation for the real and perceived grievances against Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. Be that as it may, and despite concerns about a fair and free Senate election according to the conscience of the electoral college, there is much cause for satisfaction in the practical refutation of all the conspiracy theories doing the rounds and the democratic electoral process proceeding on time and according to the constitutionally mandated schedule.