Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial March 13, 2018

The seasonal sparrows of our spring

The unedifying spectacle playing out in our political firmament provides much food for thought. The elections of the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman yesterday reflected the state of our politics. The defeat of the ruling PML-N candidates, whose victory was widely expected and predicted by most pundits, surprised everyone, not the least the PML-N itself. On the eve of these elections, PML-N spokesman Mushahidullah Khan was confidently predicting his party had about 57 votes in the bag, more than sufficient to achieve victory. How then did this claim turn out to be reversed almost exactly, producing 57 votes for the ‘combined’ opposition’s candidate for Chairman, a relatively unknown politician from Chaghai, Balochistan, Sadiq Sanjrani? And how did the PPP’s candidate for Deputy Chairman, businessman Saleem Mandviwalla, garner 54 votes? The PML-N’s candidates were Raja Zafarul Haq and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party for Chairman and Deputy Chairman. They got 46 and 44 votes respectively. The MQM-P abstained in the vote for Deputy Chairman and Ishaq Dar obviously was not there, so only 98 votes were cast for the Deputy Chairman’s slot. Sadiq Sanjrani and Saleem Mandviwalla owe their success and good fortune to a number of factors. First and foremost, they were the ‘indirect’ choice of not only the PPP, but also PTI and some other smaller parties. Asif Zardari once again proved himself a master of wheeling-dealing, turning the tables on perhaps an overconfident ruling party that delayed its choice of candidates till virtually the last minute and failed to keep a vigilant eye on our seasonal sparrows who have heralded the onset of spring by flying the coop. Inevitably, the PML-N is now engaged in a soul searching exercise that reportedly has so far yielded the speculation that about seven Senators voted against their party’s mandate, amongst whom two could be PML-N members. That still does not explain the exact swing of 11 votes for the Chairman and Deputy Chairman’s slot. Amongst the PML-N’s allies, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F and the FATA Senators are suspected of playing a dubious role. Be that as it may, accusations of vote buying have once again resurrected, much as they did after the Senate elections and before that in the toppling of the PML-N-led coalition government in Balochistan, arguably the first shot in Zardari’s campaign of turning the tables on Nawaz Sharif in the upper house elections. One of the strangest phenomena of this election for the two top slots of the Senate was the unholy ‘alliance’ of strange bedfellows in the shape of Imran Khan and Asif Zardari. After all, until recently Imran Khan considered any cooperation with either the PPP or PML-N as anathema because of his ‘moral’ crusade against corruption. A strategy of ‘indirect approach’ was adopted by Imran Khan, whereby he ‘surrendered’ his party’s Senate members to new Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, who in turn reportedly ‘delivered’ them to Mr Zardari. Call this political expediency, pragmatism, opportunism or realism, it smacks of yet another tissue thin U-turn by Imran Khan. The justification being trotted out that Sanjrani’s elevation will allay the sense of deprivation of Balochistan and strengthen the federation still does not explain the support to the PPP’s Mandviwalla.

One is at a loss to describe the Senate elections. Was it the exercise by the Senators of the mandate of their respective parties or, as Hasil Bizenjo put it, a ‘free market’? And if this is the lay of the land, what implications can be drawn for the impending general elections? Logically, it would seem implausible that the powers-that-be have gone to all the time and trouble to remove Nawaz Sharif as prime minister and party head only to see him romp home in capturing a majority and the top slots of the upper house, not to mention the general elections (again, a PML-N victory is being predicted on the basis of the popular momentum a defiant Nawaz Sharif has attained). If that is the game plan, the first two tasks having been accomplished, what lies ahead vis-à-vis the general elections? Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar has weighed in with a ‘guarantee’ of fair and free elections through shuffling the administrations throughout the country. That assurance notwithstanding, thoughts turn to the credibility of the general elections if some form of manipulation, a la ‘seasonal sparrows’, is contemplated. Neither the upper house nor parliament as a whole that emerges from this sleight of hand is likely to be stable, posing worries about how election year will end up and with what so far hidden consequences.

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