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Editorial

January 31, 2018

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Battle for the Senate

At a time of political uncertainty, the Election Commission of Pakistan’s announcement that Senate elections will be held on March 3 comes as a relief. The legal and political troubles of the PML-N and the manoeuvring in Balochistan had led to fears that the Senate elections may be postponed, denying the PML-N-led coalition a majority in both houses of parliament. As things stand, the PML-N is expected to gain a net of 10 seats in the elections with the PPP losing nine. Both the ANP and the PML-Q are likely to lose four seats and the PTI likely to gain at least six. This would make the PML-N the largest party in the Senate; and, with the support of the MQM, JUI-F, PkMAP, BNP-A and BNP-M, it would have a majority in the Senate. But there is still a lot of time left till the Senate elections are held. The opposition parties are expected to try to cut into the PML-N’s total by poaching its representatives in the provincial assemblies. In Balochistan, the elevation of Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo of the PML-Q as chief minister after a revolt by dissident members of the ruling coalition opens the possibility of the government voting against the PML-N. Of the 11 seats up for grabs in the province, the PML-N and its allies had expected to pick up six. That number could be significantly reduced if Bizenjo has his way, and could even lead to a hung Senate.

After the Panama Papers verdict last year, there had been rumours of divisions within the PML-N – whether real or engineered. There was a fear that its members could abandon the party in droves. As yet, that has not materialised. The Senate elections will be the first electoral test of the party’s unity. For now, the other parties will be figuring out their own strategies to take advantage of the Senate elections. The PPP, for example, does not have a single member in the Balochistan Assembly but Asif Zardari has met with representatives from the provincial government in recent days. Should members from the Balochistan Assembly support his party’s candidates, previous rumours regarding the recent revolt in Balochistan may appear more credible. In Punjab, the PML-N base appears to be as solid as ever, particularly after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s negotiations with Hameeduddin Sialvi led to three MPAs taking back their resignations. Any talk of the PPP and PTI resigning from the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has now dissipated; that is possibly due to the parties sensing there may be an opportunity to hurt the PML-N. So the Senate elections will essentially serve as a preview of the battle expected during campaigning for the next general elections.

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