Senate elections are not supposed to present a problem not just because they are held on the basis of a single transferable vote, but because they are indirect. The problems that face parties over candidate selection at the time of general elections are supposed to be over, having taken place then, and the party ticket having already contributed to the success or otherwise of a candidate. However, it seems that the Senate elections are causing problems for parties across the board. The parties most affected are the MQM (P) in Sindh, the PML(N) in Punjab and the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf in Khaiber Pakhtunkhwa.

The PML(N) and the PTI has been afflicted with internal party dissensions, while the MQM (P) has had an internal spat made public, leading to a full-fledged party split. The nature of the election seems to be having its effect, as the single transferable vote does not just mean a guaranteed result, but makes the party ticket that much more valuable for the Senate than for the other assemblies, where there is not just a direct vote, but a winner-take-all system for single-member constituencies, which means that the party ticket may be indicative in National Assembly or provincial assembly polls, but will not guarantee a victory. There are not many safe seats in Pakistani assemblies. It is thus of interest that one of the parties with safe seats in the Sind Assembly, the MQM (P), is facing difficulties. In general elections, party tickets are not a guarantee of victory in the vast majority of seats. However, Senate tickets are a guarantee of success, for the voting by MPAs yields certain results. The only way an independent candidate can win is if there is mass defection by MPAs. As the ballot is secret, there is no way of identifying dissidents. (This particular method of winning has been used by unscrupulous persons to buy votes as independents from KP MPAs and FATA MNAs. These electors have regarded the proceeds of these sales as a perk of office.)

It might appear paradoxical that the most highly focused party, and perhaps the most disciplined, should suffer a split because of the Senate elections. However, it should not be assumed that the candidacy of Kamran Tessori was the only issue which led to the split between Farooq Sattar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. It is perhaps impossible not to notice that Siddiqui belongs to Hyderabad, as does Kunwar Navid Jamil, who announced the replacement of Dr Farooq Sattar, represent Hyderabad in the National Assembly. Though it might be premature to predict how matters will play out, there is potential for a split in the vote for the Senate. The votes will be cast by the party’s MPAs, and the voting system is such that staying united means more seats. One of the issues that a split in the parliamentary party would create would be who would combine with the other opposition parties to obtain another seat.

The MQM(P) example is also worth watching because it seems to indicate the intervention of the establishment, this time through Amir Khan, who returned to the party after it broke away from longtime leader Altaf Hussain. Amir had broken with Altaf back in 1991 to form the MQM (Haqiqi), and is at the centre of this current turbulence. The establishment has been involved in Muhajir politics since the 1970s, when Muhajirs refused to join the PPP bandwagon, seeing it as a Sindhi party. While Muhajirs had previously been linked to religious parties headed by Muhajirs, like the Jamaat Islami and the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan, the emergence of the MQM made it possible to break this link. However, from the time the establishment decided that Karachi should not fall into the hands of the Jamaat (which won the mayorship twice for its nominee), the MQM tried to be independent, with the establishment involved in Karachi, the latest example being the almost permanent ongoing Rangers’ operation in the city.

One result has been that the Muhajir community, once a monolith behind the MQM, now appears heavily divided. There is the split between the MQMs of Pakistan and London, which seems to correspond to the one that exists (at least potentially), between that between the Diaspora and those who have remained in Pakistan. Then there is the split between the MQM itself and the Pakistan Sar Zameen Paty, which seems of one between purists and those who prefer a new leadership. Somewhere around the edges are the supporters of ex-President Pervez Musharraf, the only Muhajir to have headed a military regime.

There has emerged an ethnic element. This had been first suppressed by Muhajir support for religious parties, which promoted the creation of a Pakistani nationality, which excluded a subnational identity. The MQM acknowledged this subnational identity, but it should be acknowledged that, like the other subnationalities, the Muhajir subnationality is not a monolith, but is composed of various strands. Those strands may now be emerging with the replacement of Faroooq Sattar. Apart from the Karachi-Hyberabad-thing is the Gujerati-Urduphone divide. The Gujeratis are Muhajirs, and are Urduphone, because Muslim Gujeratis, like Muslims from other parts of India, had made their use of the Urdu language a badge of identity pre-Partition. Then there are the migrants from Rajasthan, like the Qaimkhanis, who are also Urduphone, and who are prominent (though not dominant) in Sindh outside of Karachi. Particularly, they are important in Hyderabad. Hyderabad is something of a peculiarity, being a Sindhi city in a way that Karachi is not. Indeed, Hyderabad has been suggested as the capital of a Sindh-minus-Karachi, a possibility at the time Karachi was the federal capital in the years after Partition.

The other two divides that have not emerged, but which might, now that this has started, are of Delhi-Lucknow and UP-Bihar. The Delhi-Lucknow divide is mainly literary, but reflects an identity marker which is recognized. The UP-Bihar divide has got a tragic background, with a lot of Biharis being double migrants: after migrating as children in 1947 from Bihar to East Pakistan, they had to migrate again, this time as adults who had started families, from there to Pakistan, mostly Karachi, in 1971.

Another strand is those who come from the old Ambala division, now Haryana state. As can be seen, the Muhajir identity does not only depend on where people live today, but where in today’s India they or (increasingly) their ancestors came from.

While the dissensions within the MQM are different from those within the PML(N) and the PTI, they all reflect a difficulty within the Senate system. The PML(N) and PTI have faced problems because the tickets are awarded by the party chiefs. Naturally, they will choose loyalists. Dissidents can only express themselves if they have a seat of their own.

The only party which avoided any washing of dirty linen in public seems to have been the PPP. That reflects the ease with which party leaders impose decisions on its cadres. It should be noticed that even the MQM’s internal problems seem to have been about how much power Farooq Sattar was supposed to enjoy. To that extent, its wranglings over the Senate should be seen as a prelude to what will happen in the general election due this year, rather than anything else.


n          The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive

editor of The Nation.

The single transferable vote does not just mean

a guaranteed result, but makes the party ticket that much more valuable for the Senate than for the other assemblies where there is not just a direct vote, but a winner-take-all system for

single-member constituencies.