Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
THE national and four provincial assembly members elected 52 new senators on March 3, 2018. The Senate election quelled the spin-doctors propaganda about the discontinuity of the democratic process in the country. The results of the election are encouraging for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and are equally pleasing for Pakistan Peoples Party, but disappointing for other major political parties including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf due to the horse-trading of lawmakers during the Senate election. The Senate is the Upper House of Parliament. It comprises 104 members — 23 members from each province, eight from Federal Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) and four members from Islamabad Capital Territory — with election on half of the seats (52) after every three years allowing each Senator to complete six-year tenure. It provides an equal voice to each of the provinces (federating unit) of Pakistan independent of population size.
The reshuffle in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership and Election Commission of Pakistan decision to invalidate PML-N party tickets after their party head Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification did not spoil party’s Senate election strategy. The PML-N backed candidates won 11 seats out of 12 in Punjab and 2 seats in the Centre. The victory of PML 11 seats quashes the perception that former Premier Nawaz Sharif’s associates would be jumping the ship before the general election. Senate election underscores that PML-N is only focusing on Punjab due to its large number of seats in the National Assembly. Sweeping election in Punjab automatically carve a path to power at the Centre. Nevertheless, the PML-N apathetic approach or unpopularity in other provinces is not good for the federation of Pakistan. Its victory only in Punjab may enable it to form a government in the Centre, but also creates pessimism in other provinces. The nationalist movements in the smaller provinces can publicize negatively the overwhelming majority of PML-N in Punjab and having little presence in other provinces. Therefore, the PML-N leadership needs to focus and attract electors from Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The alarming factor is the disclosure of horse-trading of the lawmakers during the recent Senate election. Interestingly, even PML-N is also disturbed due to a few Punjab Assembly members defection. According to the press reports, “at least 10 PML-N MPAs, including women, had voted for Mr Sarwar, while even more than a dozen voted for PPP’s Shahzad Ali Khan.” It was reported that 17 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial assembly sold their votes during the Senate election. It enabled two Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidates to be elected to the Senate from the province where the PPP only has seven members in provincial assembly. Simultaneously, the PPP accused PTI for purchasing the votes of its members in the Punjab Assembly. Through the purchased votes it won one seat in Punjab. The positive initiative is PTI has initiated an investigation to identify the greedy lawmakers.
The horse-trading in the recent Senate election did not only expose the shortcomings in the political system, but also tattered the image of the political elite. The lack of participatory political culture and continuity of personality cult in the leading political parties of the country negatively contribute in functioning of the political parties. Many lawmakers maintain serious reservations against the party leaders decisions, but lack the courage to question the leadership because of the personality cult. The dynastic culture of the political parties is obstructing the emergence of the mature ideologically dedicated political workers. It is simply creating subjects or opportunists, who deviate from the leadership or party decision for the sake of self-interest. The horse-trading of the lawmakers would directly affect the 2018 general elections. It increases the role of money in the elections. The greediness and disloyalty of a few lawmakers necessitate revamping in the rules of the elections. Many analysts opine that the direct election of the members of the Senate can only prevent the horse-trading of the lawmakers.
Importantly, Imran Khan called for direct Senate elections without realizing that the direct election campaigns entail huge expenses. It is an open secret that money is one of the major considerations, when the committees of the mainstream political parties decide whether an applicant for the Party ticket is electable. Is democracy in Pakistan not controlled by money? To conclude, without controlling the direct election expenses and ending the menace of vote buying, the smooth functioning of the democratic political system in Pakistan is challenging. Therefore, the political leadership and electors ought to check and discourage the horse-trading as well as chalk out a practical policy to decrease the expenditure of election campaign during the general election.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.