Saturday December 04, 2021

Opposition likely to contest Senate polls, by-elections

December 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The threatened long march coupled with resignations from the national and provincial assemblies by the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement and a series of counter-moves by the government reflect the brinkmanship of the two sides determined to overpower each other in the political arena.

These initiatives have been described as “smart moves and master strokes” by one analyst and are aimed at rattling each other. Both sides are desperate to emerge victorious in the emerging scenario and are struggling to outwit one another.

Meanwhile, a senior opposition leader told The News on condition of anonymity that the component PDM parties are likely to be in the electoral field for the Senate elections and the by-polls for seven national and provincial assembly seats scheduled for February. “Senior PDM leaders are meeting on a daily basis and will soon come up with their decision on the issue.”

He added: “Till the time we say goodbye to the assemblies, we are not going to leave the electoral field open to the government to have an easy ride in the Senate and the by-elections.”

As the PDM finally announced that it would collect the resignations of the federal and provincial lawmakers of its constituent parties by December 31 and launch its long march at the end of January, the government set in motion certain moves to frustrate the opposition’s protest.

First came a statement from Prime Minister Imran Khan that polls to half of the Senate would be held in February before the time stipulated in the Constitution and Elections Act, 2017. The statement generated a heated political debate over whether the electoral exercise can be moved to a time of the prime minister’s choosing. Regardless of its legal implications, it did to some extent distract public attention from the announced opposition steps for a while.

However, it was soon pointed out by legal experts that the Senate elections cannot be brought forward to a time legally and constitutionally fixed for it. After silently watching the prolonged public discussion, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has now gone along with this view and made a formal statement on the subject.

The ECP has also displayed some haste in deciding to hold by-elections for seven national and provincial seats. Just 20 days ago, it had postponed the by-polls on a recommendation of the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) because of the fast spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ECP was expected to review the situation regarding the by-elections on December 31, but it released the schedule for the by-polls on December 21 despite the fact that there has been no let-up in coronavirus infections that continue to show an upward trend.

The keenness of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is an important component of the PDM, to vie for the by-elections became evident when its representatives from Sindh participated in the ECP deliberations on the subject whereas no one else attended from the three other federating units. An obvious reason for the PPP’s eagerness was to clinch two Sindh assembly seats (PS-43 and PS-88) to add to its strength to get the maximum benefit in the Senate elections from the provincial legislature.

Another counter-move from the government to the opposition’s protest was its decision that the Senate elections would be held through an open ballot rather than a secret vote. Debate also focused on the show of hands system, which created unnecessary confusion and again helped divert public attention from the PDM’s campaign.

It was long known to the government as well as all and sundry that the Senate elections would be held prior to March 11 next year. Despite that, no official action was taken to introduce the open ballot system. Rather, the government preferred to go to the Supreme Court for guidance just a few weeks before the elections. This at a time when the PDM had unfolded its schedule of final protest.

It is still not clear how and when the PDM will implement its two principal decisions amidst the Senate polls and by-elections, and even after that. We know that by December 31, resignations are to be collected by the heads of the parliamentary parties. But when they are to be handed over to the concerned speakers is still unclear. In addition, the duration of the long march has still not been made public and it is still unclear whether or not it will be converted into a sit-in in the federal capital and for how long.

As far as the February 16 and February 19 by-elections are concerned, one national and provincial seat each in Punjab will be contested from Sialkot and Gujranwala. In KP, by-elections for one federal and provincial seat each will be held in Nowshera and Kurram. In Sindh, the contest will be for two provincial seats and in Balochistan, one contest will be held for a provincial assembly seat from Pishin.