The mystery of the 14 votes

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  • The best-laid plans of mice and men…

 Invisible forces? Horse-trading? Conscience call? Mistrust of leadership? Aik Zardari sab pe bhaari? Everybody has his own theory regarding what went wrong (or right, depending on one’s point of view) in the opposition parties’ no-confidence bid against the Senate Chairman last week. It can safely be said that most of these analysts don’t really know what they are talking about. But since we don’t have the services of a Perry Mason at our disposal, these theories are the best we are ever going to have. This, despite Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s and Shehbaz Sharif’s fact-finding committees to get to the bottom of things – our favourite national pastime.

Yet, amid all speculation there are certain things that are beyond dispute. For one, Hasil Bizenjo was hardly the best choice for the post. The opposition alliance resembled to a very close degree the proverbial bhanumati-ka-kumba, and to expect maulanas to vote for somebody like Bizenjo wasn’t overly practical by any stretch of the imagination. Also, Bizenjo is too hardcore a nationalist to be any serious-minded person’s realistic choice, even within say the PML(N) camp. Shattered that he understandably was, his choice of words immediately after the no-confidence motion was defeated betrayed his lack of good judgment– something that ought to have been obvious all along considering his love affair with clic glasses.

Khawaja Asif believes it was a pre-planned move by the PPP; and that the handing-over of resignations by the PPP senators to Bilawal Bhutto was an only-too-obvious gimmick. Senator Sherry Rehman has taken issue with the statement, claiming that Asif doesn’t know what he is talking about. We will never know with certainty where exactly the 14 mysterious votes came from. What we do know is that the no-trust move between the PPP and the PML(N) has been a resounding success

On the other hand, the incumbent Sadiq Sanjrani seems to have just the right personality for the post. Nobody had heard his name when he was first fielded as a candidate for Chairman Senate by the then opposition parties. It would not be an exaggeration to say that very few among the general public had heard his name by the time the no-confidence motion came along one and one-half years later– like a good wicketkeeper, a good Chairman Senate goes unnoticed. It is said about Sanjrani that he has the ability of winning one over in the very first meeting. While the author doesn’t (yet) have the good fortune of meeting him, if the testimony of his fellow senators is any guide, he is one charming bloke.

Something that people are struggling to get over is the fact that 14 senators chose to stand up with their parties in favour of tabling of the motion when they intended to cross over (or deliberately spoil their ballot papers) only minutes later. There is no mystery here: there’s no room for dissent in our political parties, which are run like fiefdoms. Seen in that light, there’s nothing incomprehensible about agreeing to the tabling of the motion and then voting against it. ‘Horse-trading’ is being mentioned profusely but incorrectly, since the Constitution allows the senators to vote regardless of party lines. That’s precisely what secret balloting, as opposed to a show-of-hands, means.

There was a time not too long ago when Imran Khan (then in opposition) was clamouring for getting rid of secret balloting. Quite understandably, the PML(N) and company hadn’t bothered to listen to him then. Now it’s the likes of Ahsan Iqbal who want to banish secret balloting. Now Khan can be excused for not paying attention. One recalls Nawaz Sharif’s reluctance to amend Articles 62 and 63 when all others were on board at the time of the passing of the 18th Amendment. Sharif then believed that the articles were likely to hurt Khan and Asif Zardari– so much for foresight! Secret balloting is one of those things that favours one side or the other in the short term. The only way the Constitution can be amended in such matters is through some sort of an arrangement where the proposed change comes into effect, say 10 years, in the future.

Another ingenuous question being asked by some is: why do political parties give Senate seats to unreliable, commercially minded individuals? Of course, we know the answer to this one too. With no pressure of constituency politics, while in theory the leadership can grant them to men and women of character; but most of those who succeed in getting the seats are rich individuals who are very ‘useful’ for their parties. Some of them allegedly spend millions to get them. There’s no mystery here either.

The ‘shock’ experienced by seasoned analysts was most amusing. A visitor from Mars would have been excused for thinking that something like this had happened for the very first time. Columnist Khursheed Nadeem (for one) was so distraught, he has declared that there was no future for democracy in the country. He has also resolved not to waste any more of his own time, and that of his readers, by writing on democracy. Will he be true to his word? One can only hope.

Right up to the polling day, some elements inside and outside the PML(N), the likes of Pervaiz Rashid and Bizenjo himself, were constantly repeating a certain line: Mian Nawaz Sharif, from inside his prison cell, was about to get ‘his candidate’ elected as Senate Chairman. Since everything about the PML(N) is rehearsed, no points for guessing the fertile mind where this slogan would have originated. Of course, Nawaz is no Sheikh Mujib, no matter what the outcome may have been; but it would be naïve to expect somebody as street-smart as Zardari to hand over such glory on a platter to Sharif, especially when Zardari has much more to lose in the present dispensation than Nawaz.

Khawaja Asif believes it was a pre-planned move by the PPP; and that the handing-over of resignations by the PPP senators to Bilawal Bhutto was an only-too-obvious gimmick. Senator Sherry Rehman has taken issue with the statement, claiming that Asif doesn’t know what he is talking about. We will never know with certainty where exactly the 14 mysterious votes came from. What we do know is that the no-trust move between the PPP and the PML(N) has been a resounding success.