A little over a week after the Senate Elections were announced for March 3, ‘horse-trading’ is the trending allegation in the political circles. It was made the buzzword by Saad Rafique in PML-N’s meeting last week, a couple of days before which the PPP had begun plotting its own assault from the CM House in Karachi.
Of course, the backdrop for the allegations reverberating in the PML-N circles is the own goal that the party scored in Balochistan, as Sanaullah Zehri was replaced with PML-Q’s Abdul Quddus Bizenjo as the chief minister, with support from not just Asif Ali Zardari and his PPP but also the JUI-F, which is a part of the federal coalition with the PML-N.
That it all emanated from PML-N’s internal rifts and not some business pitches thrown down from outside, makes the recent echoes self-defeating. However, notwithstanding the ruling party’s own expertise in this particular sport, the next four weeks are going to see the parties outbid and out-pitch one another.
Dividends are already being paid, with Mushahid Hussain ‘paying allegiance’ to Nawaz Sharif on Sunday, whose “struggle to restore the sanctity of vote and supremacy of democracy” the Senator seemingly couldn’t wait to join.
Meanwhile, after almost two years of wooing, the PTI might finally be on the verge of playing their Sami-ul-Haq card, who the party is reportedly backing for a Senate seat. This after giving Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania the Rs 300 million grant 18 months ago, and as early as December Imran Khan and Sami-ul-Haq confessing their ideological overlapping with one another, especially with regards to its ramifications for the curricula in KP, which already has been dented owing to the JI’s presence in the ruling coalition.
Even so, these developments underline the opportunism inherent to Senate elections, with everyone acting according to their scripts and the correlated needs. Those parties that are on the verge of losing a higher percentage of Senators than they can elect are especially worried.
18 out of 26 PPP Senators, for instance, will be replaced, which is why the PML-N is further putting the party on the back foot, especially when their own representation can reach an 18-year high should events pan out according to plan.
This is why the PPP leaders – from Zardari to Qamaz Zaman Kaira to Chaudhry Manzoor – are all echoing the PML-N’s own historical expertise in ‘horse-trading’.
That is something that has been the PML-N’s Achilles’ heel on the morality front – more often than not whatever they might be accusing their rivals of, is something whose gorier rendition they have played out, albeit in a distant past. But just like storming the Supreme Court, allying with dictators, campaigning for ouster of elected prime ministers, or indeed holding democracy hostage, they wouldn’t be giving too many hoots about their own hypocrisy, if they can touch the 33 Senator mark for the first time in a couple of decades.
What necessitates this so called trading of horses – or any other variety thereof – is the nature of the Senate, and how you can’t romp home just by stampeding over a single province. That is why the Balochistan faux pas, just a couple of months before the Senate elections, was particularly mistimed and is forcing the PML-N to look elsewhere for finger pointing – at least as a show – even though they should all be converging inwards.
But what it has done is that it has shaken up the PML-N, with the leadership already looking outside of Punjab for possible solutions, starting with rallies that are designed to woo rival politicians and the masses alike.
To counter the PML-N, the opposition parties would have to express significantly more unity than they managed to muster for the Mall Road rally in Lahore. Without combined candidates, the likes of PML-Q – which has already lost Mushahid Hussain to PML-N and has three others retiring in March – and PPP – that is clinging on to three-fourths of its share – might play right to the ruling party’s strengths.
The PTI remains the only opposition party that should significantly increase its share in the Senate – a foretaste of the two-horse race that the general elections later this year are all set to become.