The largest party in the Senate until recently, the PML-N, may secure seven or eight seats if things go as planned.
Early projections gave the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) no more than five seats in the Senate. The party appears to be disadvantaged in several ways. Seventeen (out of twenty-nine) PML-N senators will be retiring in March 2021. The party has also lost a vibrant candidate in Mushahidullah Khan. In addition, the rejection of Senator Pervaiz Rashid’s nomination papers has been a set-back for the party. However, some analysts believe that the PML-N might still do well by taking advantage of rifts within the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Late Senator Mushahidullah Khan, a strong voice for the joint opposition in the Senate, had been nominated by the party for a Senate from the Punjab. His death has deprived the party of a great candidate. Another big blow has been the rejection of Senator Rashid’s nomination. Senator Rashid was held ineligible to run by the returning officer after a PTI MPA from the Punjab objected that he owed Rs 9.5 million to the Punjab House, Islamabad. Senator Rashid told TNS that he had cleared all his Punjab House bills and had kept the receipts. He also offered to deposit the amount with the returning officer, who declined his request and rejected his nomination papers. An Election Tribunal of Lahore High Court later upheld the RO’s decision.
Given the early projections, the PML-N had initially nominated Jamiat Ahle Hadith chief Sajid Mir, Mushahidullah Khan, Pervaiz Rashid, Azam Nazir Tarar Barrister Sadia Abbasi. Later, five more candidates were fielded to cover for Khan and Rashid. These included former minister Saira Afzal Tarar (who has since withdrawn), Saud Majeed (who has also withdrawn) Afnanullah Khan, former adviser to prime minister Irfan Siddiqui, former minister Baleeghur Rehman, former minister Zahid Hamid and Saiful Mulook Khokhar.
Ahsan Iqbal, the PML-N secretary general, says that some of them are covering candidates. However, some party insiders say that dozens of PTI legislators from the Punjab have been in contact with the PML-N leaders, indicating that they will not vote for the PTI candidates and may be willing to support PML-N so that the PML-N might end up winning six rather than five seats from the Punjab.
In KP, the PML-N has seven provincial assembly seats. It has announced its support for the PPP candidate, Farhatullah Babar, who will be running for a technocrats’ seat from the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) platform. The fact that over twenty legislators from KP did not turn up to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan during his recent visit to Peshawar, speaks of a split within the ruling party. The recent PTI defeat in a Nowshera by-election is also a morale-booster for the PDM.
The PML-N provincial president Ameer Muqam is meeting the PTI’s rebel legislators. The PML-N is hoping for a dividend from the contacts. If things work out, the PML-N, previously the largest party in the upper house, might win as many as seven or eight rather than five seats. Secretary Information PML-N Punjab, Azma Bukhari, the party’s Punjab chapter information secretary has said, “Our target is to strengthen democratic forces and the PDM. The PML-N is supporting PPP’s candidate Yousaf Raza Gilani in the National Assembly where we have 80 votes and are the second largest party.” We are supporting him for the sake of democracy, she added.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing the presidential reference on open ballot for the forthcoming Senate elections. If the court nullifies the ordinance while disposing of the reference, the battle for a majority in the Senate might become easier for the PDM.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and