The election of the PPP-backed panel for the Senate Chairmanship and Deputy Chairmanship showed that the PML(N) had failed to get a majority in the Senate, and thus unless it scores an overwhelming majority in the provincial assemblies in the coming two elections, it will not obtain the two-thirds majority needed to so amend the Constitution as to allow Mian Nawaz Sharif to return to office as Prime Minister.
It should be noted that the next Senate elections will fall in 2021, and the next in 2024, and while the next provincial assemblies will be the electors for the former, their term will expire in 2023, and thus the assemblies elected then will be the electors for the latter. Of course, if the assemblies are dissolved earlier, then it is possible for a provincial assembly not to elect any senators. If the coming election yields assemblies which gives a massive majority for the PML(N), the chances of their carrying to term will increase vastly, to the point of certainty. Indeed, there have been no earlier dissolutions since the President lost his Eighth Amendment power of dissolving the National Assembly, unless the 1993 dissolution is counted, which was actually a result of the earlier presidential dissolution, and the Nawaz government’s loss of control of Punjab.
In fact, the election showed that the PML(N) would not only suffer from the disability of the lack of a Senate majority for the rest of its current tenure, which would only be less than three months, but also if it is re-elected in the coming general election. That disability would last until at least the next Senate elections.
This time around, the PML(N) should have obtained a majority. However, the Balochistan government of Sanaullah Zehri proved vulnerable after the fall of Mian Nawaz Sharif, and before the Senate elections, and he was replaced. The Balochistan PML(N) proved less loyal to Mian Nawaz than to local groupings, with the result that the new provincial government was headed by a member of the PML(Q). The PML(Q) had been allied at one point to the PPP, but that was not why the independently-elected Balochistan Senators voted for the PPP candidate. They did so because the PPP backed their nominee for Chairman, and they claimed to be striking a blow for Balochistani rights.
The PML(N) tried to drive a wedge by announcing its support for incumbent Raza Rabbani if he was re-nominated by the PPP. He was not, and was left in the well of the House he had presided over. That he had been nominated for another term does indicate that he was to be backed for re-election. In the cases of its previous two picks for Chairman, successively Farooq H. Naek and Nayyer Bukhari, it had chosen someone who had just been elected, and who was left to serve out the second half of his term after having been Chairman. The PPP had previously re-issued tickets to outgoing Speakers. First was Yousaf Reza Gilani, who became Prime Minister, and then was Dr Fehmida Mirza, who is presently an ordinary Opposition MNA. Naek did become Law Minister after having been Chairman, but that was an assignment he had had before becoming Chairman in 2012. Also, by the time Bokhari’s tenure as Chairman ended, the PPP was no longer in a position to hand out such assignments.
By pressing for the Chairmanship for Balochistan, the independents from that province revived an old tradition, whereby the Presidency, the Prime Ministership and the Speakership of the National Assembly went to different provinces. The Chairmanship went to one of these provinces, while the Deputy Chairmanship was seemingly reserved for Balochistan. There was no consistent tradition, but the Deputy Speakership of the National Assembly also tended to go to an MNA from that province. That tradition was doubly breached by Mian Nawaz Sharif when he became Prime Minister. First, he himself had broken the tradition that the Prime Minister belong to Sindh. Second, he nominated Rafiq Tarar to become President, even though he was from the same province.
Balochistan is by no means excluded from the great offices, as the Prime Ministership has fallen to Zafarullah Jamali in 2008, and the caretaker Prime Ministership in Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. However, no one from Balochistan has ever been President. There is also the question of what constitutes representation. The last judge from Balochistan to become Chief Justice of Pakistan was none other than Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, but he was not a Baloch in the sense of belonging to one of the Baloch tribes.
The Baloch are not excluded from the power circles of the military, with Lt Gen retd Abdul Qadir Baloch having reached not only that elevated rank, but also first the National Assembly and then the federal Cabinet, where he has the States and Frontier Regions portfolio, thus making him the government’s pointman in the fight against terrorism in the Waziristan agencies. However, no Balochistani has ever become COAS, or even the head of another armed force.
The new Senate Chairman’s previous experience includes being associated with the previous government. Therefore he would be an easier fit with the PPP than with the PTI. The PTI’s alliance with the PPP was by no means natural, especially since it involved supporting its candidate for Deputy Chairmanship, who was Saleem Mandviwala, a Karachite like Raza Rabbani. The alternative to voting for the PPP candidate was to vote for the PML(N) nominee, a Baloch Pashtun.
There is something of a complication with every Pakistani ethnicity. While there are Baloch in Balochistan, there are also Pashtuns, the result of the conquest from Afghanistan of a part of its territory in the First Afghan War in 1842. These are allied to the PML(N) through Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s PkMAP. There is a movement both for these Pashtuns to merge into a Balochistani identity, and for a separate province to be formed, with the decision on the merger of that province with KP or otherwise, to be made later.
Then there are the Baloch. While Balochistani is their province, they are also present in large numbers in Sindh, as well as in Punjab, where they are the dominant ethnicity in Dera Ghazi Khan division. The father of the Baloch nation, Mir Chakar Rind, respectfully referred to as Chakar-e-Azam, is buried in Okara district. There are Baloch in Iran as well, and Baloch separatists hope that the Iranian Baloch will join them. Then there are Balochi speakers and Brahvi speakers. One belongs to the Indo-Iranian language group, the other to the Dravidian group. Adding to the welter of languages is Seraiki (Balochistan’s first PM, Zafarullah Jamali, had this as his native tongue).
Though the military has long had a Baloch Regiment (with the present COAS, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, one of a line of Army chiefs which started with Gen Yahya Khan and continued with Gen Aslam Baig and Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, with Gen Hamid Khan, Gen Rahimuddin Khan and Gen Rashad Mehmood reaching four-star rank), and though officers commissioned into it would self-identify as ‘Balooch’, the people of the province would refuse them this identification.
The election is a good omen for both the PPP and the PTI. It means that if either forms the next government, it will command a legislative majority in the Senate. However, so limited are the powers of the Senate that neither party is likely to campaign on this basis in the coming general election.