A challenge for the PTI

The PTI fears a repeat of the previous elections when several party members had refrained from voting for their party’s candidates

The upcoming Senate elections have become a challenge for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI). The party fears a repeat of the previous elections when several party parliamentarians did not vote for its candidates. In the end, twenty MPAs were expelled from the party. There is also infighting and dissatisfaction with some nominations. Party leaders, however, have said that the disputes will be resolved soon.

The PTI government’s bid to hold Senate elections through a show of hands rather than secret ballot and its choice of first a reference to the Supreme Court and then an ordinance to change the rules, has attracted much comment. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter just ahead of the polling schedule. The PTI leaders claim that they want to introduce this method to stop corruption and use of money to buy votes.

Meanwhile, assuming that the polling will be by secret ballot, the PTI leaders, especially the prime minister, are apprehensive about its parliamentarians voting against party nominees. Last week, the prime minister asked some of his senior party leaders to keep an eye on their MPAs lest they should “sell” their votes to non-PTI candidates. The scenario is quite likely as divisions are there. This is obvious from the fact that fourteen Members of the National Assembly (MNA’s) and six Members of the Provincial Assembly (MPA’s) were absent from a recent meeting chaired by the PM.

MPAs Sultan Muhammad Khan and Liaqat Khattak, who were removed from ministries on allegations of supporting a rival candidate in the Nowshera by-election, were reportedly not invited to the meeting. The process of awarding Senate tickets has not been smooth and there has been a strong show of reservations against the nominations in the provinces and at the Centre. The old guard has maintained that no “paratroopers” be accommodated at the cost of loyal members who have been with the party since its formative days.

PTI candidates from the provinces currently include the following: on general seats, Saifullah Khan Nyazee, Ejaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Aon Abbas, Mohsin Aziz , Faisal Saleem Rehman , Najiullah Khattak, Faisal Vawda, and Shibli Faraz; on a technocrat seat Barrister Ali Zafar and on women’s seats Dr Zarqa Suhrawardy Taimur, Dr Sania Nishtar, and Falak Naz. From Islamabad the PTI candidates are Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Fauzia Arshad, and Zahoor Agha.

Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry, president of the Punjab PTI, who also holds a ticket for the Senate, says that differences in political parties are normal. He also says that this shows that members’ right to differ is acknowledged as a democratic norm. He insists that all tickets in the Punjab have been awarded to PTI members of long standing.

Several PTI leaders in Sindh have expressed their reservations against the grant of Senate tickets to Federal Minister Faisal Vawda and businessman Saifullah Abro. Liaquat Jato has even alleged that Abro, who is a recent entrant to the party, paid $350 million for the Senate ticket. Abro is now out of the race after his nomination papers were rejected. Faisal Wada too risks losing his seat as a result of the ongoing dual-nationality case against him. The provincial leaders have also demanded the nomination of an ethnic Sindhi.

Dr Muhammad Waseem, professor at LUMS and a political scientist, believes that there is a rift in the PTI. Journalist Faizan Bangash points out that even in the Punjab there has been some disagreement over the nomination of Aoun Abbas who does not enjoy support from the Shah Mahmood Qureshi camp. Being a nominee from south Punjab, he might be in the middle of Tareen-Qureshi tussle. He says the PTI and the PML-N will win six and five seats, respectively, in the Punjab if MPAs follow party lines and PPP extends its support to the latter as promised.

In conversation with TNS, Salman Abid, the Institute for Democratic Education and Advocacy (IDEA) executive director, says there are signs of a rift within the party especially in the KP and Sindh.

The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

Senate election: A challenge for the PTI