Saturday proved to be a historic day for democracy in Pakistan, as the Senate elections concluded without any untoward event – but political surprises were aplenty. While the results closely mirrored the expected tally, some key differences need to be noted and will have significant impact on the political environment leading into the upcoming general elections.
The prime takeaway from the election – and the factor on which most of the discussion was focused on prior to the poll – was the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) strong showing in the poll. PML-N backed candidates bagged the most seats (15), and the danger that the unaffiliated ‘independent’ candidates from the party might defect to other parties seems to have been averted as all candidates have remained loyal to the PML-N. Things might change before the official Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) results are announced and the incoming senators sworn in, but at the moment the PML-N sits comfortably on top of the political pyramid with control over both houses of the Parliament.
This is undoubtedly an important result. PML-N – dogged by court cases and buffeted by pressure on many fronts – has managed to weather the storm and emerge stronger after the election. However, the biggest ‘winner’ of the election has to be the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The party performed much better than expected – bagging 12 seats in the Senate and bolstering its already strong representation in the upper house. As a dancing, smiling Asif Ali Zardari evidenced, the party has pulled of a veritable electoral coup – all at the expense of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
The divisions and infighting that has plagued the Karachi based party in the recent past weighed heavily on the party’s performance in the polls, as the party came away with a single seat in the Senate; measly relative to its sizable presence in the Sindh Assembly. While Farooq Sattar was quick to decry surreptitious negotiations and machinations that apparently steered MQM legislators towards the PPP, the party’s crisis of leadership had a significant part to play in making such drastic shifts possible. The party’s future in Sindh politics is now in flux.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) managed to increase its representation in the upper house, but it is still far from being an effective legislative force in the Senate. The result will certainly disappoint PTI and its Chairman Imran Khan, who had hoped that his party’s popularity could be converted into legislative prowess, but considering its relative seats in the provincial assemblies, the number of seats it received (6) is exactly what it should have expected.