LAHORE - As the political parties are in the process of finalising Senate candidates through mutual consultation in a bid to elect all candidates unopposed, most of Punjab Assembly members are resentful of their leadership’s move for keeping them out of the consultative process to nominate candidates.

During the recently concluded Punjab Assembly session, the corridors had been alive with conversations amongst members that they should exercise their right to vote and unlike the 2009 Senate elections they should have a say in determining who will represent Punjab in the Senate.

The PML Q dissident group known as the Unification Block had held meetings to build a consensus on nominating a candidate from amongst themselves, but agreement could not be reached on the issue.

Some PPP members were also overheard saying that they had no say in the matter and felt helpless. PML-Q which does not have enough members to elect a senator is striving hard for a deal to have a member placed in the Senate through backdoor deal.

Majority of the legislators with whom this scribe talked also rejected the idea of unopposed Senate elections, as they termed it against the spirit of democracy, which, they said, was all about ‘election’ and not ‘selection’. They grudged that party leaderships had preferred to settle the senators’ list in consultation with each other rather than facing the challenge of ballot. “The basic right and act of casting the vote has not been practised by the MPAs since 2003,” resented one of them.

“I am not aware of the consultation process my party has adopted to nominate Senate candidates from Punjab,” said Mohsin Leghari of the PML-Q while talking to TheNation. He was of the view that it was quite strange that those who were to elect Senate candidates had not been consulted at any stage.

“May be the MPAs are not trusted to vote on party lines,” he added. The PPP’s Sajida Mir said that it would have been better had the party leadership taken the parliamentary party into confidence before finalising Senate candidates. Ch Javed of PML-N also expressed similar views. PPP’s parliamentary leader, Maj (R) Zulfiqar Gondal, however, said that party leadership had consulted Opposition leader Raja Riaz over Senate nominations.

Opposing unopposed election of senators, many legislators viewed that Constitution was also very explicit in saying that the seats of the Senate were to be filled by elections and not through selection.

“Article 59 of the Constitution of Pakistan states that the members of the Senate shall be elected,” another legislator told this scribe seeking anonymity.

It may be noted that Senate, the upper house of the parliament, is an integral part of the democratic system in place in Pakistan and important legislative business and policy matters need to be discussed in this house. In view of its importance, political parties should, ideally, put forward some of their best parliamentarians to this august house. However, the practice has been of placing party leadership loyalists after negotiating with the seemingly hostile other political parties in the assembly. However, the political parties have been dividing up the seats of the Senate behind the scenes settlement and the elections have not been held since 2003, when the military dictator Pervez Musharraf held the Senate elections. “It is ironic that under the democratically elected government, MPAs of the provincial assemblies have not been allowed to exercise their constitutional right to vote for the senators of their choice,” commented a PPP legislator adding, that members to the upper house had been selected rather than elected against the spirit of democracy.

Meanwhile, it has been learnt that PML-N, the largest party in the Punjab Assembly, has finalised its candidates for elections to the Senate seats fallen vacant due to the retirement of eleven senators on the expiry of their term.

PML-N is expected to nominate four candidates on the general seats, (Zulfiqar Khosa, Zafarullah Dhandla, M Hamza and Rafiq Rajwana), one each on technocrats (Ishaq Dar) and Ulema seat, one on seat reserved for women (Nuzhat Sadiq) and one on the newly-created seat reserved for minorities (Kamran Micheal). PML-N will nominate seven members on the eleven vacant seats.

PPP and PML-Q alliance is expected to nominate five members. PML Q’s expected lone nomination probably will be Kamil Ali Agha on the general seat and PPP will nominate two members on general seats (Babar Awan and one more, may be Aitzaz Ahsan), one on women’s (most probably Shabina Riaz) and one on the seat reserved for technocrats (Dr Basit Riaz Sheikh). Shabina Riaz is likely to withdraw her candidature if her son Dr Basit is accommodated against a technocrat seat. Thus the 12 Senate seats are expected to be filled without an election unless someone files nomination papers.