In the light of all the murky wheelings and dealings in current politics, will the PML-N give Senate a makeover by winning a clear majority on March 3?
"We’ll win the Senate elections," says Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan. He is not just confident his party will triumph in the March polls of the upper house but predicts they will win seats of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.
It’s unclear if Khan is displaying radical idealism or bizarre loyalty. For, after the recent crisis in Balochistan where PML-N’s Nawab Sanaullah Zehri had to resign as chief minister to create room for PML-Q’s Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, rumours are rife that Asif Ali Zardari has already put a set of his maneuvering skills in action.
PPP parliamentarian Nafisa Shah, as if in defence of her party chairperson, says: "It was the failure of PML-N’s Sanaullah Zehri. It shows that the ruling party’s strength was artificial."
She thinks the PPP is a party of the federation. "We hope to get seats from all provinces with Asif Zardari’s strategic planning," adding that the new cabinet of Balochistan is seeking support of the PPP’s top leadership "as this is the party that has recognised the Baloch right to resources through the 18th amendment".
But Khan is insistent. "Victory is ours, and the PPP’s attempt at horse-trading in Balochistan has failed to spoil the scheduled polls."
Political analysts are already talking about the gruelling challenge the ruling PML-N is facing in securing seats in the Senate in the aftermath of the Balochistan crisis. They think that the PML-N may not become a single majority party in the Senate but it would most likely emerge as the leading party with some 36-38 senators. In that case, perhaps, Khan’s optimism is well placed.
The Senate election are only weeks away and anticipation is building. Last week, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the schedule for the Senate elections and set March 3, 2018 as the day of polling. A total of 52 senators in the house of 104 are set to retire following the completion of their six-year term.
According to the ECP schedule, 11 senators each from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and 12 from Sindh and Punjab -- including seven on general seats, two technocrats, two women and one member of minority are scheduled to be placed in the Senate. Federal capital will elect two senators -- one each on general and technocrat seats. The National Assembly will elect four senators for Fata.
The Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) will lose 18 of 26 senators including Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nine of 27 senators, among them is former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) is likely to lose all its representation in the Senate as four of its senators will retire in March. Three out of five senators of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and four out of eight Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) senators, including Nasreen Jalil and Dr Farogh Naseem, will retire in the forthcoming elections of the upper house.
The Awami National Party is expected to lose five of six senators, Balochistan National Party two of two, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional one, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf one of seven seats. Among the independent senators five out of ten will retire in March.
The voting in Senate depends on the party positions in the provincial assemblies. The members of National Assembly vote for Fata, the provincial assemblies vote for their representatives of Senate and Islamabad senators are elected by the members of National Assembly.
After the announcement of the schedule by the ECP, it is almost confirmed that hurdles in the way to smooth Senate election have been crossed. "I don’t see any upsets anyway," observes senior journalist Muhammad Ziauddin, and foretells, "The PML-N is likely to capture majority of seats followed by PPP and PTI."
While the experts see the PPPP and PML-N neck and neck in the upcoming polls, they do not undermine the chances of the PTI to grab seats from the Punjab Assembly where they hold 30 seats. The PTI could join hands with other parties to win over maximum number of members from the opposition parties to pave way to the upper house.
It is speculated that the PML-N will be followed by the Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians with 29-31 seats, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf with 12-14, Muttahida Qaumi Movement with seven-nine, Awami National Party with two, National Party with five-six, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party with six, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl with four-five and Awami National Party with two seats.
The successful holding of the Senate elections will pave the way for the general elections scheduled to be held in July-August 2018. "I feel that timely elections of the Senate will clear ambiguity surrounding the elections of the lower house," says PPP Senator Murtaza Wahab.
Many experts predicted that if the ruling party gains simple majority in the Senate and manage to form government in the centre, the PML-N parliamentarians will propose laws favourable to the top leadership of the party -- such as the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and accountability cases against his family members.
"Senate elections are very important for the PML-N," says Wahab. "By getting a majority in the upper house of the parliament, the ruling party will try to amend the constitution to allow Nawaz Sharif to come back into the parliamentary politics. This will be very negative for democracy since democracy is rule of the people for the people and the apex court by disqualifying ousted prime minister has shown that he has not served the people but rather served his own business and financial interests."
"One of the principal significance for Senate elections lies in how they improve the numbers game for ruling party to enable it to propel their legislative agenda," says Islamabad-based analyst Adnan Rehmat. "The Senate 2018 elections have acquired added significance because of their proximity to general elections and the desperation of the PML-N to rationalise their representation from Punjab."
Currently, he adds, the PML-N is under-represented and PPP and PML-Q over-represented in Senate. "Despite the PPP machinations on the back of Zardari’s adroit skills at electoral advantages, the PML-N will be able to significantly improve their numbers in Senate in March and ensure that in case they perform well in the general elections, they will be able improve their chances at legislation and if they don’t perform well in the general election, they will make it difficult for any incoming government to get laws passed from the Senate."