If media reports are to be believed, the recently concluded Senate elections seem to have demolished all previous records of vote buying and selling by unimaginable margins. Many candidates contesting for elections came from the exclusive billionaires’ club. So-called secular and progressive parties fielded people with tons of money, no questions asked about the source of their fortunes. How much was doled out by the aspirants to gain the party tickets and backing can only be speculated upon. How much of the fee went to the party coffers and how much ended up in the deep personal pockets is yet another big question mark.

Jumping ship from one party to another encouraged by leading ‘leaders’ turned into an art form; if it had been an Olympics sport, Pakistan could have bagged many gold medals… huge contingents along with scores of officials participating in international events come back empty handed because they go only for the freebies at tax payers’ expense. This time it was a billionaires’ game; next time it could well be one of trillions, rest assured.

What went through the minds of those who framed the 1973 constitution, so proudly acclaimed by the scions of the then President and later PM, as a land mark achievement and devised the form of cockeyed elections for the Senate? Was it by accident, or more likely by design? The whole system of Senate elections stinks to high heavens. It calls for urgent reforms and major surgery to excise the widespread cancer that it is afflicted with. But does it stand any chance of reform? Those who hold all the trump cards never ask for a re-deal. There are many anomalies in the election system, e.g. the tenure of ‘elected’ senators—- while they have a six-year tenure despite a tiny electoral college, directly elected MNAs/ MPAs have only a four-year tenure. Why the disparity?

The system of reserved seats for women enables the big guns to get their close female relatives elected as Senators, MNAs and MPAs; wives, daughters and sisters make a smooth entry into Parliament and the Assemblies, with no sweat on their brows. They were born, like their influential men-folk, to rule over our destinies. The latest example: the Prime Minister, beholden to the ‘na ehal’ Prime Minister, has got his own sister elected to the Senate! The method of elections calls for a major overhaul. The Senate aspirants must be directly elected, not by a handful of bigwigs who tightly hold the reins of power in their respective parties. Let them go and face the electorate and be accountable to the masses. If there was ever a serious attempt to audit the expenditures, it is no problem to cook the books. Let us do away with reserved seats for women, technocrats, minorities and ulema. They now need to face the people in whose names they have been elected to the Senate and the Assemblies. Late in the day, even the ‘kaptaan’ has finally woken up, and has announced a nation-wide campaign to change the system of indirect elections and replace it with direct elections, not that money will not be a decisive factor in who gets elected. One thing has become clear in recent years: money makes the mare go, and enables the ‘horses’ to get elected.

‘Horse trading’ became an artform around 1990 when the Nawaz League was planning a No-Confidence Motion in the National Assembly, against the late PM Benazir Bhutto. Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) roped in his ‘horses’ and stabled them in Chhanga Manga forest. Later they were corralled in Murree to enjoy the summers, but under strict security cover. On the day of reckoning, they were transported to the National Assembly to cast their No-Confidence Votes. At the same time, BB roped in her ‘horses’ and had them air-lifted by PAF’s C-130 aircraft to Swat where they were corralled in the Serena Hotel. On D-Day, they were flown back to Islamabad to cast their votes against the No-Confidence Motion, which ultimately was defeated. The writer knows of one young PPP MNA who cast his vote in favour of the motion at the behest of an uncle who was very close to the PML (N) leadership. For his services, the uncle got his agricultural loans written off, and when MNS became PM, he was appointed Pakistan’s ambassador to an East European country. During MNS’s next stint as PM, he was appointed the ambassador in a Central Asian country. The Uncle and PPP MNA were well-known to the author.

Despite all the denials by all party leaders of horse-trading in the recent Senate elections, it seems that it is here to stay, and may even have the potential of becoming Pakistan’s biggest growth industry.

 

n          The writer is a retired brigadier. He is the only retired officer to have been allowed to go parachuting with PMA and PAF cadets. He made his 44th jump at the age of 66, including 11 jumps after his 60th birthday. He was an engineer and pilot who served in Army Aviation for twenty years.