The number game

February 28, 2021

In the current composition, smaller parties have a make-or-break-role in the upper house.

As election to half the seats in the upper house of the parliament approaches, the role minor parties can play is crucial to the number game.

The Senate is set for election to 48 seats on March 3. As many as nine groups –with a relatively small representation in the assemblies – have a significant role to play in the exercise. Representation for political parties in the upper house in proportion to the number of seats they have in the National and Provincial Assemblies is meant to give smaller parties some representation in the house of federation. Currently, there are eight political parties with small representation (two to five seats) in the Senate and four independent members. It is expected that the number of smaller parties will rise to nine after the election for the next term.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) is projected to have five seats in the new Senate. Muttahida Qaumi Movement is likely to have three seats. The Grand Democratic Alliance, Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Awami National Party, the National Party and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party will have two each. Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) and Jamaat-i-Islami will have a seat each. The house also has four independent senators elected in 2018. No independent candidates are contesting this time.

It is expected that the ruling alliance will have 49 seats and the opposition parties 51 seats in the new Senate. One of the members will be elected chairman. One of the members from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Ishaq Dar, has not taken oath.

The situation makes for a greater role for the small parties. Smaller parties are up for the task of shaping up the future politics of Senate and can play a key role in either passing or rejecting a law. It is believed that the move for open voting will harm smaller parties and benefit the larger ones. This has the potential to make the smaller parties insignificant.

In an electoral system based on secret ballot political parties with small representation in the assemblies are able to get into the Senate by negotiating with other parties. Smaller parties in the assemblies have historically played a major role in shaping the upper house in order to maintain their survival on the political landscape. This has also helped maintain the federal character of the state and kept the political balance in the provinces where, sometimes, major political parties lack representation for various reasons.

The presence of small parties and their role in the house of federation, many believe, helps create a win-win situation for small as well as mainstream political players.


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

The number game