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January 14, 2021

Senate strategy

Opinion

January 14, 2021

Since the formation of the political alliance called the PDM by the opposition, which unites most opposition parties under its banner – except the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Sindhi nationalists – there is talk that the alliance has been formed to stop the PTI from gaining majority in the Senate.

It seems that most analysts and columnists who are writing on the issue have not done proper homework, though. Here I will try to present some facts and figures to prove that the ruling party will not gain majority in the upper house of parliament in the face of a joint strategy by the opposition to contest elections collectively.

The Senate is made of 23 members from each of the four provinces, regardless of population; four from the federal capital, for which the National Assembly is the Electoral College and eight members from Fata for whom Fata MNAs vote. However, with the merger of Fata no elections will be held on these four seats, which will be vacated by the retirement of the Fata senators.

Out of the 23 members of the Senate allocated to each province, 14 seats are categorized as general seats while four each are reserved for women and technocrats (including Ulema) while one is for minorities. At present, the Senate has 102 members. 23 each from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 22 each from Punjab and Balochistan, four from the federal capital and eight from Fata (this is as per the official website of the Senate of Pakistan).

According to the Senate website, at the moment 15 senators belong to the PML-N, 19 to the PPP, 15 to the PTI, five to the MQM, four each are from the JUI-F and NP, three each from BAP and PkMAP, two from the JI, while the PML-F, ANP and BNP-M have one senator each. According to the website, 29 senators are independents out of which the majority belongs to the PML-N, whose symbols were withdrawn due to a court decision. The PML-N’s 15, PPP and PTI’s seven, Independents six (which include four from former Fata), MQM’s four, BAP’s three, JUI-F, PkMAP and NP’s two each, and the JI and BNP-M one each are among the senators who will be retiring on the 11th of March after completing six years.

Elections for at least 48 seats for the Senate will be held between February 11 and March 2021. In Punjab, the PTI has 181 members so it can easily win 6-7 seats out of the 11 while 4-5 may go to the PMLN with the help of seven MPAs of the PPP and four independents.

In Sindh, the PPP with 96 MPAs will attempt to win 8-9 out of 11 Senate seats due to its experience in this regard and possible conflict in the opposition ranks. But if the opposition in Sindh (PTI, MQM, GDA) field joint candidates they can restrict the PPP to 6-7 seats. In KP, the ruling PTI has a commanding majority, therefore it can win 8-9 seats while the opposition can win two seats jointly. In Balochistan, BAP may get 4-5 seats, the PTI one and the rest may go to opposition again if they contest jointly, because in Balochistan the ANP is in the ruling coalition. Two seats of the federal capital will be won by the PTI, but there is a hidden fear of defection amid secret ballots in the ruling party; if its fears prove correct, it may lose both federal seats.

The PTI will emerge as the single largest party in the Senate, with 30-32 senators, while its allied parties may bag eight seats. With four Fata independent senators and two independents from Balochistan, the total number of senators from the treasury benches would be 46, while the rest may go with the opposition parties.

The above situation is possible if the opposition parties contest Senate elections jointly by supporting each other. For example, the PPP must support the PML-N in Punjab, while both the PPP and the PML-N could support the ANP and JUI-F in KP, and the ANP and PML-N could help the JUI-F and BNP-M in Balochistan. By doing this, they can deprive 2-3 seats to the ruling coalition. Unity within the opposition alliance can foil the regime’s attempts to roll back constitutional steps made through the 18th Amendment, particularly those related to the NFC Award.

To a distant spectator like me, the emphasis on resignations from assemblies before the Senate elections seemed to have been to facilitate some behind-the-scenes maneuvering to achieve certain outcomes.

The writer is a freelance contributor.