Senate elections 2018

Mansoor Akbar Kundi

THE Senate elections held on March 12 for half of its members brought a sensational but disappointing results. Sensational in the sense that it stirred a dramatic debate and controversy about the future leadership of the house and its role in the country’s politics in the years to come. They were disappointing that the elections became a volatile and selfish game. Senate is an august body with its image as an upper chamber of Parliament with two major purposes. First, it represents FATA, the provinces, and other adjacent areas including the capital. Under the 1973 Constitution all provinces are assured a sense of parity and equality in Parliament to halt legislation and amendment in case it went against their individual or common interests. Second, as an upper house it was believed to have a supervisory and revisionary role over the lower house where majority of legislation is initiated and backed by the ruling political party and its coalition partners. Legislation in upper house, in different political systems, is believed to be more steady and thorough than the lower house lest a bill of volatile and undemocratic nature is passed in haste.
It is particular under a multi-party system where parties’ alliance is marked by “marriages of conveniences”. Therefore, the democratic spirit requires that elections to Senate members entail the selection of seasoned, mature and integrated but politically isolated people who can less swayed by party politics and more by national spirit The 8th Amendment under Zia ul Haq regime strengthened Senate’s role in the approval of an amendment with 2/3 majority and not simple as mentioned initially in the 1973 Constitution. The 8th Amendment was undone, but the insertion of 2/3 majority requirement remains intact. Elections for Senators in Pakistan unfortunately have lost its spirit and have become a money game. It will not be an exaggeration if said that “Senate in Pakistan is largely for sale”. The seeds were sown in 1985 in the non-party elections held under a military regime where the major purpose of the ruling elite was to halt then major mass political party: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), support like-minded parties, and avoid charismatic and popularly based leaders whose access to legislatures was least possible without popular party support.
Elections in the years to come became a money game with Senate in particular. The trends were prevalent in 1988, 93, 1997, 2002, 2008 and 2012 elections with visible indications of having mobilized money as a support factor for a candidate. And the rise of money mafia in Pakistan, now owning expensive business and enterprises, including newspapers, TV channels, and higher education institutions, benefitted directly or indirectly from the deal. They started owning off-shores companies and were involved in leading corruption scandals. They are successful in politics due the major reason that one of strong support factors for a candidate’s success is money. Democratically, there can be two major support factors for a candidate to be elected as a Senator. His/her party affiliation role and contribution as worker or co-leader and his/her self in charismatic sense enabling him to be elected. They all have been ignored largely in the present Senate elections. Party politics has its own rules and regulations with norms taken as final line of action in event like the Senate elections. Voting for candidates were by secret ballots, but candidates can well be pinpointed in the wake of balloting. Elections in FATA followed the routine normative lines. It involved tribal, group homogeneity and money lines. The mode of elections for Senators from FATA is from a limited and narrow lines of a couple of MNAs which is well managed and carried. But it is not democratic, and candidates may fall short the required qualifications necessary for being Chairman or Deputy.
In Punjab, party politics and personal relations played a role. Money factor cannot be ruled out, but results were as expected. Chaudary Sarwar’s success owes to his personal interaction and links, plus third power backing. But his candidate like one from KP: Rubina Khalid of PPP are good omen. They can be considered as better lot who can play a good participant and representative role inside and outside the Senate. Elections in KP were highly money oriented. And it was a big dismay for PTI leadership who were told about it. It was a reality for many MPAs who are without wealthy background and have to contest 2018 general elections. Party discipline was violated and undemocratic spirit followed in KP of which PTI had been negating at its own end. Elections in Balochistan can be justified in its own terms. Personal and tribal leadership bases have always been influential. Money factor was there, and so was establishment support for many. It is good the Chairman of Senate comes from Balochistan, a small province, but its intellectual and versatile integrity be a pre-requisite. The Chairman office is a challenging and integrating job. In Sindh party politics suffered in case of MQM. The PPP was major beneficiary and reaped its benefits as they did in Balochistan. PTI’s support for anyone from Balochistan as Chairman may be hailed, but its looks as face. Asif Zardari appears vocal in support for PPP candidate other than Raza Rabbani for Chairmanship, but in case he fails in his bid, it will not be good for the House and democratic values. The MQM suffered due to rift in party leadership.
— The writer is Professor, Dept of Politics & IR, International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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