ISLAMABAD - A tough contest is expected today for top Senate slots as the opposition parties have combined their forces against the ruling coalition, which will announce its candidates for chairman and deputy chairman before voting in the evening.

Taking a lead, opposition Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf yesterday ignored their bitter past to support an independent senator-elect from Balochistan Sadiq Sanjrani for the senate chairman’s slot.

After a marathon meeting, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told journalists that his party had finalised Sanjrani’s name for the top senate office and Saleem Mandviwalla of PPP for the deputy chairman’s post.

The ruling the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had been waiting for the PPP decision on outgoing Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, and is expected to nominate its own candidate today (March 12).

The PML-N had pledged support to the PPP, if they nominated Rabbani for re-election. The PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari however was not ready to accept the PML-N offer.

Zardari maintains Raza Rabbani had ignored violations of the Constitution by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which put him out of the race.

“Raza Rabbani also did not remove our reservations over the 18th amendment. This is why Raza Rabbani is closer to [former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif,” he said last week.

Speaking to the media along with Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, Bilawal said his party had decided to nominate a senator from Balochistan as part of the policy to strengthen the federation.

The announcement was immediately welcomed by the PTI.

Imran Khan had already committed to vote for the PPP candidate for the deputy chairman’s slot, if they nominated someone from Balochistan for the senate chairman’s post.

“We have sacrificed for all the provinces. We will continue to support the smaller provinces. We have the required number [to win the two seats in the Senate] but we will not expose those who are voting for us,” Bilawal said.

The PPP chief said the nomination of Sanjrani was aimed to help resolve the problems facing the people of the province.

The PPP meeting, co-chaired by Zardari and Bilawal, was attended by Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman, Rehman Malik, Faisal Kundi, Nayyar Bokhari, Khurshid Shah, Farhatullah Babar, Farooq Naek, Qamar Zaman Kaira and others.

Several senators-elect were also present at the Zardari House for a dinner hosted by the PPP leadership.

Bilawal said the outgoing Senate chairman was an asset for the PPP, adding: “I have some other plan for Raza Rabbani. He will be given some other assignment.”

Over the weekend, Bilawal had offered Rabbani to become the leader of the opposition in the senate.

There were reports that Rabbani, who has been re-elected as a senator, had refused to take oath after Zardari’s statement against his role. But Bilawal visited Rabbani’s residence to reconcile him.

After yesterday’s meeting, Rabbani said he would take oath on March 12 and also vote for the PPP candidate to replace him.

Until now, Zardari has been backing Senator Salim Mandviwala as the PPP candidate for the top senate slot. But he and Bilawal were ready to change the candidate, if pressed by the allies.

Senator Mandviwalla was Zardari’s first priority, while Farooq Naek and Sherry Rehman were also seriously considered.

Balochistan CM Abdul Quddus Bizenjo said the PPP had created history by sacrificing for Balochistan. “In the past, Balochistan had been neglected. It’s [a] good opportunity to give them a sense of ownership,” he said.

“We are thankful to the PPP and hope to win tomorrow [March 12],” he said. The chief minister said he was optimistic other parties would also vote for Sanjrani and Mandviwalla.

Earlier in the day, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah said the PPP was committed to giving rights to smaller provinces.

“Our candidates are the best. They will get votes from rival parties too,” he claimed later.

Election of the senate chairman and the deputy chairman will see PPP and PTI as partners for the first time. The two parties have been virtually abusing each other for years.

Reason of delay on ruling side

The ruling coalition also held meetings on Saturday but it stopped short of announcing its candidates for chairman and his deputy.

Till the evening, PML-N leaders were saying that they would be waiting to see if PPP names Raza Rabbani; if he’s not nominated then they would field their own candidates for the contest.

PML-N Central Information Secretary Mushahid Ullah Khan said they were waiting PPP’s decision about Rabbani; otherwise, they have completed their homework to secure requisite votes for election of their own candidates.

But the ruling side failed to announce their names even after opposition’s declaring their candidates. They simply came up with the announcement of making the announcement today (Monday) morning.

Sources said that ruling coalition heads at a meeting chaired by Nawaz Sharif at Punjab House reiterated their support for Rabbani if he would be nominated.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai said if PPP would not name the outgoing chairman then the PML-N should bring such candidate from the party as would advance Nawaz’s narrative and serve the cause of democracy.

He even proposed the names of Mushahid Ullah Khan and Pervaiz Rasheed, asking Sharif to field anyone from them for the top slot.

Sources in the ruling PML-N however said that Senator Rasheed has refused to be in the race and the name of National Party chief Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo could be considered, along with a couple of names from the PML-N.

As decided earlier, the slot of deputy chairman would go to the coalition partners who themselves have to decide as to who gets it.

PML-N sources said that failure of junior partners to agree on deputy chairman name was the real reason behind the delay in announcement of their candidates.

The National Party, PkMAP and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl were still engaged in discussions and they have been asked by Nawaz to decide the matter by Monday morning.

The sources said that Nawaz Sharif during Saturday’s meeting said that they have managed the requisite number for Senate elections as Fata senators and MQM-P leaders have assured them of support.

Parties’ position

A simple majority of 53 votes is required to elect the chairman and deputy chairman of the senate.

The PML-N and PPP have been making contrary claims of mustering support of required number of senators to elect their candidates to the top senate positions.

The PML-N and independents backed by the party have 33 seats in the senate followed by the PPP with 20.

The PTI has 12 seats.

Independents from Balochistan and Fata make up the third-largest grouping with 17 seats.

Election schedule

The Upper House session will resume at 10am, according to the agenda issued by the Senate Secretariat.

The newly-elected senators will take oath after which the session will be adjourned, said a press statement.

It said that after the adjournment of the session, nomination papers for chairman and deputy chairman will be submitted. The session will resume at 4pm for electing chairman and deputy chairman.

Names of the candidates for these posts will be announced during the meeting and later a secret ballot will be held. Winning candidates for these slots will be announced the same day, after which they will take oath.