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Opinion

March 19, 2018

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A numbers game

When the PML-N government in Balochistan was toppled in January, it was speculated that the Senate elections would not take place on time. However, the Senate polls took place on March 3 as per the original schedule and Balochistan was, once again, at the centre of attention – but not for the right reasons.

Six out of the 11 Senate seats from Balochistan were won by independent candidates. These results vindicated the allegations of horse-trading in Balochistan. The ruling PML-N and its allies had the required numbers to elect six senators in Balochistan. But this time around, they could not elect even a single senator.

However, the house of the PML-N has not been in order from the outset. In the 2015 Senate elections, there was also an in-house split within the PML-N and some of its members had defected from the party. The party only managed to win three Senate seats from Balochistan despite having control of the government machinery.

The manner in which the PML-N crumbled like a house of cards in Balochistan was an outcome of the political dynamics in Balochistan. The 21 members that the PML-N has in Balochistan were not elected on its own vote bank. In fact, these candidates have their own vote bank and they chose to contest from the PML-N’s platform because they knew that the party would be in power. When they realised that the PML-N’s rule was about to end, they deserted the party. As a result, no federal party has any significant vote bank in Balochistan.

The PML-N wasn’t the only party that witnessed defections within its ranks. The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), led by Mahmood Khan Achakzai, managed to elect two senators and their third candidate lost by a narrow margin. The internal rifts within the PkMAP resulted in the third candidate gaining fewer votes.

It is believed that there are two factions within the PkMAP, one of which is at loggerheads with Mahmood Khan Achakzai. The party can’t even successfully conduct intra-party elections due to these internal conflicts. The ECP had to thus suspend the electoral symbol of the PkMAP and its candidates had to contest as independent candidates in the Senate elections.

The fate of the Balochistan National Party wasn’t much different. Three of its members defected when the new chief minister was appointed in January this year. These three members did not vote for the BNP’s candidates during the Senate polls. The defections within the party suggest that it might face troubling times during the 2o18 elections. There is a strong likelihood that the party will face the same fate that the PML-Q experienced during the 2008 elections.

The right-wing JUI-F also faced problems during the Senate polls. The JUI-F has eight members in the Balochistan Assembly and only five of them voted for the party’s candidates in the Senate elections. The JUI-F has even ordered an inquiry to identify these three members and determine if they defected due to alleged horse-trading. Given the fact that the Senate elections are conducted through a secret ballot, there are no legal means to prove all this.

In the past, rich businessman from other provinces of Pakistan would travel to Quetta to contest elections and quite a few of them managed to become senators. This time around, quite a few people made an attempt to repeat this trend. One of them was Hussain Islam, an industrialist from Karachi. He filed nomination papers for the Senate elections as a technocrat. But his papers were rejected.

Although Hussain Islam successfully filed nomination papers for a general seat, he withdrew them at the eleventh hour. It was later reported that Hussain Islam was appointed as the adviser to the chief minister of Balochistan on the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) and the Balochistan Coastal Development Authority (BCDA).

These Senate elections have once again tarnished the image of the political class in Balochistan. People like Sheikh Rashid have even claimed that the entire Balochistan Assembly has been ‘sold out’. Not all assembly members were ‘sold out’. But the results suggest something is amiss. The people of Balochistan are, on the one hand, impoverished and, on the other, they see that their representatives end up increasing their own fortunes.

The people of Balochistan have to stand up to their political representatives and question them about their self-serving ways. If they don’t, there will be no one to demand the rights of Balochistan’s people – especially since the federal government, given its track record, cannot safeguard these rights.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @iAdnanAamir

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