Defections in the no-trust vote against the Senate chairman are likely to jeopardise the PPP-PMLN alliance
The two main opposition parties in the parliament, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), have formed separate committees to identify the turncoats their ranks who had converted an obvious defeat of the Senate chairman into a phenomenal victory.
These parties, along with others in the opposition, had jointly moved a no-confidence motion against Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. On August 1, the voting day, sixty-four opposition members stood up in the house to endorse the vote-of-no-confidence motion against Sanjrani, predicting his defeat. However, in the final vote through secret ballot, the opposition failed to generate the 53 votes needed to oust Sanjrani. The 14 votes from the opposition parties cemented Sanjrani’s position and caused huge embarrassment for the opposition.
The anticlimactic victory of Sanjrani, who retained his position as custodian of the Upper House, has also created a big dent in the alliance of opposition parties. Leaders of these parties are accusing each other of betrayal.
According to lists circulating on social media seven to nine of the defectors are PMLN senators and five to seven PPP senators, and two belong to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal). The ruling alliance, on the other hand, claims that these senators, did not like the opposition’s joint candidate for chairman, National Party’s Hasil Bizenjo who hails from Balochistan.
Opposition parties’ leaders have accused the government of horse-trading and resolved to expose the defectors their parties. As a strategy to pre-empt defections, these parties had formed small groups comprising four to five senators. Each group was supervised by a senior senator.
"We will take strict disciplinary action against such senators and will make the names of those who sold their conscience public," Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told the media at the Parliament House.
Some senators stabbed their parties in the back, we will take them to task," he said. He added that the government had exposed itself by resort to horse-trading.
A committee, under the convener-ship of Yousaf Raza Gilani, is now trying to find out who the defecting senators were. The PML-N has formed its own committee to find the traitors, and vowed to raise its voice against horse-trading at every Senate session.
The joint opposition had moved a no-trust motion against Sanjrani after the top leadership of the two major political parties was arrested on graft charges and failed to get any relief, including release on bail, from the courts. Soon after, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari was arrested, and PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif was denied bail and refused permission to step out of jail even on medical grounds, both parties decided to launch a movement against the government and placed the removal of Senate chairman on top of the agenda.
"There was no real alliance between the PPP and the PML-N. It was mostly expedience. They always come close when their interests converge even though there is nothing common between the two," Zahid Hussain, political analyst observes, adding, "They are not together politically as we have seen on earlier occasions including the election of prime minister."
His view is that the trust deficit between the two parties will persist. PPP, he believes, may not go beyond a certain point because the party has a huge stake as it has government in Sindh.
The federal government, understandably, feels more confident and strengthened despite being a minority in the Upper House and has entered a comfort zone at least till the next one-and-a-half year when there will be election for half the seats of Senate where it is likely that the PTI and its allies, will get majority on the basis of proportional representation in three provincial assemblies.
Last Wednesday, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari vowed to move another no-trust motion against Sanjrani saying this time opposition would win. "Legally, the no-trust move can be moved after a period of three months. Soon after this period passes, we will move another no-trust motion against the senate chairman," he says.
"The government was not confused at all in this secret ballot vote game of the Senate. They had managed their support because opposition parties wanted to send signals beyond the house by removing Sanjrani. This could not happen," says Hussain. He expects the opposition parties’ alliance to bring about no serious change in the near future too.