WITH Senate elections due on March 4, major political parties have finalised their candidates for the 50 seats being vacated in the 100-member Upper House. On Sunday, the Election Commission cleared as many as 141 out of a total of 158 candidates who had filed papers. Earlier, a move was initiated by the PPP in Sindh, avowedly with an aim to take along all political forces, to evolve a consensus panel with the help of other parliamentary parties. The panel was subsequently elected unopposed. Later on, talks were initiated between the PML(N), PPP and PML(Q), which are the three largest partiers in Punjab, to evolve a joint panel. An agreement has now been reached between the three parties on a 6-4-1 formula, which has been worked out in accordance with their actual strengths in the Punjab Assembly. Among the prominent applicants who have subsequently withdrawn under party direction are PPP candidate Mian Ijazul Hasan and Q-League candidate Mushahid Hussain. In NWFP, the PPP, ANP and JUI(F) are also trying to work out a similar arrangement. With the exercise already having been completed in Balochistan, all consensus candidates are supposed to be elected. With the future of the 17th Amendment depending on the outcome of the Senate elections, the exercise has assumed special significance this time. It is being maintained that the complex system of proportional representation practised in the Senate elections, with its single transferable vote, greatly frees the voting MPAs from the party whip, thus opening the door for corruption. The supporters of the consensus panels maintain that they would discourage indiscipline and horse-trading, and provide much-needed strength to the nascent democracy. Further that they would debar the way of candidates who use financial clout to defeat the deserving candidates. There is another side of the picture, however, which is difficult to ignore. Party institutions being weak in Pakistan, party chiefs play a preponderant role in the selection of their candidates. Here likes and dislikes can play a role. Party chiefs can oblige cronies and prevent dissidents from reaching the Senate. Examples have been cited where more deserving candidates were told to withdraw papers and favourites promoted. This has led to bickering in all the provinces. It has been maintained that in certain cases, party leaderships have even bypassed party rules while issuing tickets to favourites. Even candidates who lost the last National Assembly elections or had not been party members for the time period required have been issued tickets. Despite the shortcoming, the cooperation between major parties needs to be acknowledged.