ISLAMABAD    -   In a shocking surprise for the opposition parties, Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani Thursday survived a motion of no-confidence brought by them in the House to deseat him.

Deputy Senate Chairman Salim Mandviwala, who enjoys opposition backing, also survived a quid pro quo treasury move against him.

Government-backed Sanjrani, whose chairmanship had fallen in serious doubt in face of the opposition-sponsored no-confidence resolution, endured thanks to the 14 opposition defectors who voted for him in the secret balloting.

The survival of Sanjrani brought huge embarrassment for the opposition, which enjoys clear majority in the house with 67 members and had gathered 64 lawmakers to vote against him.

Opposition needed 53 votes in the 104-member house to dethrone him but fell short by only three votes. The final vote count was 50 votes in favour of the no-confidence motion, five votes rejected, and 45 cast against.

In polling for deciding Mandviwala’s fate, all but five opposition lawmakers abstained from voting. The resolution against him got only 32 votes.

Sanjrani was in fact saved by hair’s breadth. Had only three of the 14 ‘traitors’ in opposition ranks not cheated with them, they would have hit the bull’s eye.

Out of these 14 lawmakers, nine voted against the opposition resolution and five intentionally got their votes cancelled to favour Sanjrani.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Javed Abbassi, who was polling agent from the opposition, informed The Nation that four of the cancelled ballot papers were double stamped.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its allied parties termed the defeat of no-trust resolution Sanjrani as a major victory while the opposition levelled allegations of horse-trading and termed it an attack on “the democracy and the federation.”

The opposition’s failure in removing Sanjrani as Senate chairman will have many political implications. Most significantly, it would dent their efforts to launch a protest movement against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.

The immediate consequence of their defeat came in the form of mistrust between them as the opposition parties alleged each other of back-stabbing and harming their collective cause of pushing the government on the back foot regarding ‘political victimisation’ of opposition in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ drive.

Many opposition lawmakers alleged that majority of those who crossed the floor were from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), while some believed defecting senators belonged to the whole spectrum of opposition and included members of PML-N, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam -Fazl (JUI-F) and other parties too.

PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman denied the impression that majority of the defectors were form PPP.

Media talk of leaders

Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq while talking to a select group of reporters at his chamber after the session said that the defeat of no-trust was not a surprise for them as they had sensed the situation and they knew early on by Thursday morning that some members would cross the floor.

The forces who wanted to retain Sanjrani got successful, he said, calling it a sorry state of affairs. Asked about defections, he said that lawmakers of one party [PPP] had defected.

The opposition parties held a meeting after their defeat which was attended by their top leadership including PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif and Senator Bizenjo.

Shehbaz later told the media that they had decided to summon a multi-party conference (MPC) next week. He said the meeting decided that the 14 defecting senators who “sold out” their conscience and democracy would be exposed.

He said the opposition parties would continue protesting against the horse trading in every Senate session and they would soon make public their future course of action.

Talking on the occasion, Bilawal said that the defeat of no-trust resolution despite opposition’s majority was an “attack of the anti-people puppet government on the federation.”

He said that now Senate chairman should resign morally as 64 senators voted against him in open voting.

“We will search out within our own party those who have sold out themselves,” he said, adding that they would not spare those who stabbed the party in the back. “We will take this fight to Senate and expose the puppet chairman Senate.”

He also alleged that the government was conspiring against Supreme Court Judge Qazi Faez Esa by filing a reference against him.

Senator Faraz in his media interaction said, “This is not just Sanjrani’s victory, it is actually the institution’s victory.”

He accused JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman of using the no-confidence motion for his own political agenda and said, “I regret that other major political parties were used by him.” He went on to say that the opposition parties undertook the campaign to avoid accountability.

 Polling process

The opposition needed one fourth of votes out of the total membership of the house to seek leave to move the motion against Sanjrani. To their satisfaction, all their 64 lawmakers on the outset of the sitting voted for granting leave to the motion by raising their hands.

The opposition has 67 senators in the present 103-member house. However, two Jamaat-e-Islami senators abstained voting by remaining absent from the house while PML-N Senator Chauhdry Tanveer could not make it to the house as he was out of the country.

After the leave was granted, Leader of Opposition in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq moved the resolution which read: “Whereas, Senator Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani has ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Senate as the Chairman, the House resolves and declares that he has ceased to hold the Office of the Chairman, Senate of Pakistan.”

On this, Presiding Officer Senator Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif directed that no senator can leave the house and the lobbies till the voting through secret balloting is finalized.

Before the voting, the opposition leader remarked that though rules permitted speaking on the resolution, “it is not mandatory that we make speeches against one another.”

“We want to keep atmosphere of the house peaceful and will not deliver speeches,” he said and requested the chair to start voting.

Leader of House in Senate Shibli Faraz endorsed him.

Members’ names were called alphabetically, one by one, to cast their votes in favour or against the resolution. PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi represented the opposition as polling agent and PTI’s Noman Wazir Khattak was the nominee of the treasury for the same job.

During polling, the presiding officer ensured that no voter could take his cell phone along with him in the polling booth.

Three lawmakers - PML-N’s Ms Najma Hameed, MQM’s Mian Ateeq Shaikh and Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani - spoiled their first ballot papers and got them issued fresh ones.

PML-N Senator MS Ayesha Raza Farooq moved forward to help out her party colleague Ms Hameed, an old and apparently ill woman lawmaker, for casting his vote but was barred by the chair, which said it was tantamount to influencing the vote. The chair ordered that Senate staff would help the lawmaker to cast her vote.

PML-N Senator Hafiz Abdul Karim was the first one who cast his vote and PTI’s Waleed Iqbal was the last one, according to the alphabetical order.

Treasury rose from their seats and thumped desks when Sanjrani came to vote while opposition welcomed Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo, the joint candidate of opposition for the position chairman Senate, when he voted.

Soon after the Senate staff forwarded results of voting on resolution, the presiding officers announced that the resolution is dismissed as it could get only 50 votes in its favour and three votes short to be declared successful. 45 votes were polled against it and five votes were declared as cancelled.

With the announcement of dismissal of resolution, the treasury benches started cheering the survival of Sanjrani and raised slogans in favour of him. Sanjrani himself stood up in his seat as a triumphant and received congratulation from fellow senators, especially Senator Faraz.

Senior politicians, government functionaries and party leaders witnessed the voting process while sitting in the galleries of the house. They included PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, former Senate deputy chairman Sabir Baloch, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri and Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani.

On the no-trust motion against deputy chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla, first the presiding officer granted leave to move the resolution as it got 36 votes of treasury in favour. However, after the voting on the resolution completed, the chair announced that the resolution is rejected as it got only 32 votes in its favour against the required 53 votes.

The opposition parties abstained from voting except five of its lawmakers including Madviwalla himself.

Senator Sherry Rehman explained that they voted against the resolution so that the chair could not declare the exercise void.

The chair also remarked that it was “un-parliamentary and unconstitutional move from the opposition to abstain from voting.”