Lessons from Senate elections

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THE overall outcome of the Senate elections is not entirely unexpected as the ruling PTI has emerged as the largest party in the Upper House of Parliament and the overall strength of the coalition partners/allies has improved to 47, four less than the magic figure of 51 required to have a simple majority.

This should lead to improved chances for adoption of the legislative agenda of the Government, which remained in the doldrums during the last two and a half years due to the dominant majority of the opposition parties.

However, the dramatic victory of Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, the candidate of the 11-party alliance of the opposition (PDM) has surely dampened the spirits of the ruling party, which lobbied hard even at the highest level to prove its majority but failed when it came to making choices in a secret ballot.

The result has confirmed apprehensions of PTI, which feared some foul play by its own members and that of the opposition leadership, about continuation of the secret ballot and wanted to bring about a change in the method of balloting through constitutional amendment, presidential ordinance and court intervention but all of them proved to be elusive dreams.

The Sheikh-Gillani contest was considered to be a high stake exercise as the opposition was determined to prove that the Prime Minister has lost confidence of the majority in the National Assembly and that exactly what its various leaders said after announcement of the result.

The Prime Minister has done well by taking a prompt decision to seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly despite the fact that it was not a foregone conclusion that the PM has lost confidence of the majority as second candidate of the ruling party from the Federal Capital – Fauzia Arshad polled 174 votes (as against 161 by PML-N’s Farzana Kausar).

However, the decision of the Government to seek a vote of confidence is a smart move as it would not only once again prove majority of the party in the house and help counter the opposition’s view point on the outcome of the election but also deprive the opposition of a chance to move a vote of no-confidence, as proposed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, because no such motion can be presented within six months of securing of vote of confidence by the leader of the house.

This would, of course, force the opposition to focus more on the long march. Only a completely fair and neutral investigation could bring to the fore the real reasons and factors that led to defeat of the ruling party’s candidate but analysts give several explanations.

As Finance Minister Dr. Hafeez Sheikh has been the axis of the government’s economic and financial policies, which might have restored some semblance of normalcy at macro level but at micro level these policies resulted into an unending hike in inflation, making life of the people miserable.

More people are believed to have fallen in the trap of absolute poverty due to hyperinflation and lack of economic/employment opportunities than those lifted out of the vicious cycle of poverty through programmes like Ehsaas.

During the first half of its tenure, the Government hardly bothered about the plight of the people, ignored protests by different segments of the society, in some cases it resorted to use of force than listening to their grievances in a sympathetic manner, made no worthwhile allocations for developmental activities and is once again preparing to increase the burden of taxes on masses under an understanding with the IMF.

The elected members of the PTI are finding it increasingly difficult to satisfy their electorate and might have aired their frustration in the secret ballot.

There was also resentment over inclusion of non-elected members against important cabinet positions besides complaints of their non-accessibility to the elected members.

As for corrupt practices and use of unfair means in the elections, no party can claim moral victory in the backdrop of what people witnessed in Daska by-elections; Faisal Vawda ineligibility case, videos going viral confirming use of money to buy loyalties and votes and use of government funds and machinery to influence members/voters.

Almost all are paying only lip-service to the lofty ideal of transparency in general elections as well as other elections including those of the Senate.

Why, except Punjab, there were consistent reports of malpractices from other provinces and Islamabad? These issues would remain there and the system, especially the democratic process would suffer due to self-centered and short-sighted approaches of different parties.

They should now join hands to make the electoral process truly fair and transparent and preferably go for direct elections of the Senate (by the people of Pakistan).

It is also time for the Government to pay genuine attention to the core issues that matter much for the people and both the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers should always remain in touch with elected members and not just around testing times.