Thursday December 02, 2021

Vulnerable Senate chairman likely to emerge

March 12, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Whoever wins tomorrow, the new Senate chairman is unlikely to be stable and secure because of the marginal lead he is likely to enjoy over his rival given the close contest expected between the two principal contenders.

As per the claims and counter-claims of the ruling coalition and Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), their nominee former premier Yousaf Raza Gillani is set to win. However, the government is confident that its man, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, will inch ahead. However, neither side is actually convinced that they are going to carry the day comfortably. Each side is keeping its fingers crossed knowing that defeat would be a political nightmare that must be averted at all costs.

The stakes are very high for both the competing parties. It is not difficult to see how the loser will react to being defeated. In private, the PDM believes that Gillani’s defeat will inflict a big blow to its overall campaign against the government but his success will give a tremendous fillip to its protest movement, making it difficult for the government to survive.

The government thinks that Sanjrani’s triumph will wipe out the negative impact created for the government by Gilani’s upset win of the Islamabad Senate seat and would prick the balloon of the PDM’s agitation against it. However the trouncing of its nominee will hurt the government massively.

In the absence of a surprise upset overturning all projections, the margin of victory is expected to be very narrow. Going by the official party positions, the PDM has a clear but small edge over the governing alliance. But in a secret vote, even a significant numerical superiority at times can be overturned. It happened in 2018 when the opposition had moved to oust Sadiq Sanjrani and there was a repeat of it during the recent Yousaf Raza Gillani-Hafeez Sheikh clash.

Regardless of the victory or defeat of either candidate, none is likely to come out of the fierce scramble with flying colours; it will be an equally close call for both. Meanwhile, the political acrimony is likely to intensify after this process regardless of the outcome. The Senate election has not served as a healing touch to alleviate the growing political polarisation and whatever happens tomorrow is not likely to bridge the divide.

After the chairman’s election with a minor lead, the winner is not going to stay in office and serve peacefully and easily as he will continue to face the spectre of a vote of no-confidence from his adversary. Since this contest is likely to deepen the wounds, it will not be surprising if the loser decides to try to oust the winner sooner rather than later.

More worrying is the prospect of the continued breakdown of the lawmaking process that has been witnessed since 2018. When neither the ruling alliance nor the opposition is in a clear majority in the Senate and they are locked in an everlasting tussle, fresh legislation will remain a dream and as difficult as it has been over the past three years. It is always the government’s priority to make laws to implement its political and reform agenda. Given the numerical position and the kind of relations that exist between the two sides, any constitutional amendment can be ruled out unless the government and opposition bury the hatchet. The passage of even non-controversial laws, such as the much talked about electoral reforms, will be an uphill task.

Government leaders have often stated that after the Senate elections the government would embark on a process of massive law-making and reform. This will only be possible if there is a consensus in the Senate, which is likely only when the two sides sit down together and hold meaningful talks. The current acrimonious environment is not conducive to consultations, and there is no possibility that any sincere effort for a dialogue is going to be made in the near future.

Sanjrani’s three-year tenure was relatively smooth except for the abortive no-trust motion that he faced from the opposition parties. Throughout his term, he handled the numerically powerful opposition parties, which dominated the Senate, diplomatically. If reelected, he will be in a somewhat better position because of his increased support, even though an evenly poised Senate is not likely to accept his legitimacy. If Gillani is elected, he has a track record of amicably taking along all the members as he had done when he had been the National Assembly Speaker first and then the prime minister. He is not in the habit of annoying people. Rather, he has always been someone who prefers building bridges to confrontation.