In March 2018, the elections of chairman senate surprised everyone. It was the first time that a senator from Balochistan managed to get elected as the chairman of the upper house of parliament of Pakistan. The elevation of then lesser-known Sadiq Sanjrani to the office of Chairman senate was termed as a move placating the grievances of Balochistan. Just after 16 months, Sanjrani faced a no-confidence motion and once again Balochistan was the center stage of the controversy.
In July, opposition submitted a motion to convene senate session so that voting can be carried out on no-confidence motion against the chairman. Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), to which Sanjrani belongs, was quick to term the no-confidence motion as a strike on the rights of Balochistan. The opposition responded with its shrewd plan and announced Senator Hasil Bizenjo as their candidate for chairman senate. On the face of it, there were two political heavyweights from Balochistan battling for the third most prized constitutional office of the country.
On 1st August, the day of voting, it was expected that Sanjrani would be dethroned because the opposition had the numerical majority. However, the final results shocked everyone because despite having 67 members, the opposition could only get 50 votes – three votes short of toppling Sanjrani. This concluded yet another episode in Islamabad where Sanjrani and his backers emerged victoriously and Balochistan was made a political punching bag in the process.
There are multiple takeaways from this entire episode. Firstly, political parties and the power brokers in Pakistan only consider someone from Balochistan for a top office when they want to exploit the emotional appeal of deprivations of Balochistan. In March 2018, PPP and PTI, short on numbers, wanted to settle scores with PML-N and hence they agreed on Sanjrani as a compromise candidate. In normal circumstances they would have nominated one of their top leaders – none of them belongs to Balochistan. Likewise, in last month, opposition nominated Hasil Bizenjo to counter, albeit unsuccessfully, the Balochistan card of Sanjrani with their own Balochistan card. The problem with these superficial nominations is that they do not help in addressing deprivations of Balochistan while giving an impression that Balochistan is being accommodated in the federal structure.
Secondly, there is also a useful lesson to learn for the senior politicians from Balochistan – don’t let political leaders in Islamabad embarrass you when it comes to the nomination for a top office. This is what happened with Senator Hasil Bizenjo. He was being treated for cancer in Karachi and was away from active politics for a while. On the insistence of joint opposition, he accepted to be their candidate and took part in intensive political maneuvering for weeks prior to elections. Ultimately, He could not be elected Chairman Senate and further got himself into trouble by making spur of the moment comments against alleged backers of Sanjrani. If he had declined the offer of opposition to contest for Chairman elections, he would have saved himself all the trouble at this stage of his political career.
Moreover, this episode also blasted the myth that political parties have control over their senators. The opposition was banking on all their senators that they would toe to the party lines and vote against Sanjrani. However, 14 of them defected and there is no way of knowing with certainty who they were, thanks to the secret ballot system of voting. The reason is simple – the senators who buy their way in Senate do not feel obligated to follow the party line. It’s an open secret that how Senators purchase the votes of provincial assembly members to win elections. It’s an inconvenient truth that all political parties know but they choose to ignore it. If PPP and PML-N had not issued tickets to candidates who bought their way in Senate then they could have managed to topple Sanjrani. Therefore, the undemocratic way in which political parties issue senate tickets is also responsible for the defeat of the opposition in this case.
Fourth, the failed attempt against Sanjrani has exposed the weakness of joint opposition. This episode has proved that opposition does not have full control over their parliamentarians. Not only that but soon after the vote result PPP and PML-N launched verbal attacks against one another for the defeat. The exchange of statements by leaders of both parties against one another proved that PPP and PML-N have still not mended fences. They still are bitter foes and a joint enemy in the form of Imran Khan had temporarily united them. This implies that the PTI government does not face any real challenge from these two parties. It can carry out its IMF-dictated economic agenda at the detriment of the masses and the opposition cannot do anything to create roadblocks for PTI.
Moreover, the no-confidence fiasco should provide some inspiration to the political leadership in Pakistan to democratize the Senate in future to come. Currently, the Senate has become a place for wealthy individuals to buy their way into parliament. This can be avoided in the short term by only issuing party tickets to seasoned leaders and workers and not to businessmen and landlords who joined a party before elections. In the long run, the solution lies in holding direct elections for Senate, just like the case of the USA. That would not only promote electoral democracy in the country but it would close the doors for parachuters, who buy their way into parliament. If the political leadership does not make these changes and allowed the status quo to continue then they are contributing to weakening the democratic institutions in Pakistan.
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