The norm rather than the exception
The tumultuous elections of the exalted Upper House are finally over. But the manner in which they were conducted has left a bad taste in the mouth and a lot of egg on ruling PML-N’s face.
The election to 48 seats did not spring any surprises. The Sharifs swept Punjab and Islamabad, thanks largely to no-show of the PTI from the National and Punjab assemblies. PPP, in cahoots with MQM, bagged Sindh.
A lot of ‘hulla gulla’ (hullaballoo), amongst blatant instances of horse-trading, was seen in KP and Balochistan. But at the end of the day the ruling PTI, as per its strength, took six seats from the province.
In Balochistan, despite the prime minister paying a visit earlier followed by trouble-shooter from Punjab Khawaja Saad Rafique, chinks in the PML-N armour were clearly visible. The nationalists in power asserting them, coupled with voting pattern transcending party affiliations on largely ethnic lines, queered the pitch for the Sharifs.
Nonetheless, the Senate elections have proved beyond a shred of doubt that in the Islamic Republic politics sans morality is the norm rather than an exception. The late night presidential ordinance promulgated on the eve of the elections in an unholy haste was a brazen attempt to influence the outcome.
Zardari wants to reclaim the coveted posts of chairman and deputy chairman Senate for the party. And the Sharifs, to satisfy their penchant for absolute power, want these posts for themselves
After the ruling party realised that eight members of the National Assembly from FATA (Federally Administrated Tribal Areas) were not playing ball, they decided to change the rules of the game altogether through presidential fiat. This blatant gerrymandering has not only debased the institution of democracy but also the office of the president. In the process, election on four seats from FATA has been stayed.
The PML-N hierarchies, belatedly realising that contrary to past traditions FATA MNAs were not supporting their candidates, cynically decided to reduce their voting strength. This was ostensibly done in the name of discouraging horse-trading.
Admittedly members from FATA, like the rest, are no angels. Since more than a decade the problem has been festering. If the government had no ulterior motives, it would have tackled it long ago through legislation or a constitutional amendment.
But as per their past record the Sharifs have little stomach for consensus building. The net result is that the PPP, that bailed the ruling party out when it faced a joint putsch from the PTI and PAT dharnas last year, now itself feels alienated. Opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah, who was criticised by his party men for being too soft on PML-N, has suddenly become very vocal in criticising the modus operandi of the rulers.
However, there is a method in the madness. Zardari wants to reclaim the coveted posts of chairman and deputy chairman Senate for the party. And the Sharifs, to satisfy their penchant for absolute power, want these posts for themselves.
In the numbers game the PPP has a slight edge over the PML-N. As things stand the PPP has 27 and the PML-N 26 seats in the Upper House. However with the support of MQM, the PPP will muster 35 seats whereas the PML-N along with the JUI-F 32.
The manner in which the PTI, JUI-F and the MQM play their cards will affect the ultimate outcome of elections for the top slots in the Senate. Zardari, however, more adept at reaching across party lines and ‘jorr torr’ (bargaining), has an advantage over the Sharifs who are more accomplished in the art of alienating friends and annoying people.
No party having an absolute edge in the Upper House is, however, good for democracy. The ruling PML-N will have to legislate through consensus building rather than using the guillotine. Even if by some stroke of luck or better manoeuvring the PML-N is able to bag the coveted slot of chairmanship of the Upper House, in the absence of a ‘bhari (heavy) mandate’ the option to steamroll things will simply not be available to it
Despite the understandable anxiety to secure the Senate, the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues have shown scant regard for the Upper House. Perhaps because the PPP commanded a majority there, it was to be avoided like the plague.
Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan recently was so annoyed by his grilling by the Senators, including those belonging to the PML-N that he left in a huff not to return.
The situation is likely to remain virtually unaltered with the combined opposition having an edge over the ruling coalition. Naturally Mian sahib, if he wants to engage in some inventive legislation, will have to give the Upper House its due place in a democratic dispensation.
No party having an absolute edge in the Upper House is, however, good for democracy. The ruling PML-N will have to legislate through consensus building rather than using the guillotine
Apart from the honourable exception of the PTI, the manner in which Senate tickets were distributed left a lot to be desired. The PML-N having complete suzerainty in Punjab but no presence in Sindh accommodated its stalwarts from the province. Similarly, Rehman Malik from Sialkot landed up in Sindh for the same reason.
This attitude not only militates against the very spirit of democracy but also the sanctity of the Upper House. The Senate is supposed to be a centre of excellence representing the equality of provinces in the federation.
The election campaign was marred with fears of horse-trading to the extent that the PML-N and PTI agreed to bring in a constitutional amendment to change the election mode from secret balloting to show of hands. Thankfully, the PPP thwarted the move.
As the results speak for themselves these fears, though well founded, did not diametrically influence the outcome. Imran Khan’s threat that he would dissolve the KP assembly if his party men engaged in horse-trading largely worked. It proved that if parties exercised internal discipline the nefarious practice of buying and selling votes can be checked even without a constitutional amendment.
The mismanagement and confusion that marred the Senate are symptomatic of the general malaise afflicting the ruling elite. Despite a lapse of almost two years poor governance has remained their hallmark. The Senate elections were no exception to the rule.
Now is the time to inculcate a spirit of consensus building and competence within the ranks of the ruling party. The Sharifs should outgrow their penchant for cronyism and adopt a more enlightened and merit oriented approach towards politics and governance simply to survive.
Yeh maadarchood Saray horse-traders hain!
Comments are closed.