NWFP MPAs had apparently thought the sale of their votes to the highest bidder in Senate elections was one of the perks of office, like the salary or travelling expenses, meant to compensate them for the trouble of voting in the election. Political parties did not regard this as a perk of office, but as political corruption. The PTI had campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and had won office in KP, as the NWFP had become. Therefore it had made the sale of votes for the Senate not so much illegal as something to be scorned. After the March 3 Senate polls, there were numerous allegations of vote-sale, including by PTI members, and it was on April 18 that PTI Chairman Imran Khan announced the names of 20 PTI MPAs who had taken money to vote for someone else.

One consequence was that the PTI was credited with good intentions, and could claim with some justice that it was being true to its anti-corruption agenda. Another consequence was that the KP government came under threat; this was not a major consequence however, for if the government indeed fell, its replacement would have to give up office on July 1, it not having time to do anything, especially after the Election Commission had not just banned recruitments but also development spending. This lack of access to the sweets of office may have helped reconcile the KP government to its weakening, for otherwise it had been careful enough of survival to have attracted defectors from other parties. These defectors provided four of the 20 vote-sellers. From Imran’s remarks, that the vote-selling had been going on for the last 30 or 40 years, it is to be assumed that the 2015 Senate elections, after the previous polls, had also involved PTI MPAs being among those who had sold their votes. The party had not acted against them then, and thereby not presumably put its government on the chopping block.

It should be noted that this is a KP problem and thus it cannot be because Assembly is small (only 124 members), as the Balochistan Assembly is also small (65 members), but has not got anywhere near the KP reputation for selling votes. Indeed, Balochistan does not have a reputation for vote selling, even though this year’s polls saw the emergence of a Balochistan group of independents, which parlayed its position into getting one of its number elected Chairman.

Incidentally, it is over this election that the PTI’s action will cast a shadow. If the MPAs are taken action against, it will have to be established that certain Senators were elected as a result The MPAs and the bribers, as well as the candidates they voted for, will be liable to conviction for using, indulging in, or benefiting from, corrupt practices. This will lead to all being deseated and rendered ineligible for contesting elections, having been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude.

However, there are certain issues. First, there is the time factor. It is not beyond reason to predict that the cases will be undecided not just in time for the coming polls, when the corrupt MPAs might contest for re-election, but for the 2021 Senate elections, in which a different roster of MPAs will be voting. Second, there is the question of how the challenges are to be made. There is now no point in any prospective MPA challenging an incumbent. Any vacancies in any Assembly now are to be left unfilled until the general election, whenever that is. However, petitions against Senators would be more fruitful, as anyone being deseated now would leave almost a full six-year term behind. However, election petitions against Senators would have to be moved by defeated candidates. The time limit for such petitions is 45 days, which ended on April 21, and thus now would probably not be maintainable.

This brings up the question of the status of the PTI’s proceedings. They will presumably be handed over to the Election Commission, and thus represent results by an investigator, rather than a judicial decision. Show cause notices have been issued to the offending MPAs, though it is not known how the party intends to compensate any MPA who manages to establish he has been wrongfully accused. It is also not clear if the party has enough time to decide the notices. They have to be decided before the next elections, so that affected MPAs may decide whether they wish to apply for tickets of the PTI or some other party. If this is a way of indirectly telling some or all of the affected MPAs that they should not reply for reselection, it is meant as a way of muddying the waters for applications to other parties.

It is not likely that the practice would be disapproved of by constituents. If they regarded it as discreditable, MPAs would have lost in the past. If they had for this reason, MPAs would have avoided it now, particularly so many of them. Under almost any circumstances, the odd MPA will fall prey to temptation. And there will always be a risk-taker rich enough to offer temptation. But for so many MPAs to fall prey, shows something systematic at work.

Imran Khan has taken on the system, but has failed to provide viable solutions. By allocating Senate seats on party lines, more problems might be created than solved. The main problem seems to be that of seats which might depend on parties combining. Direct elections have their own difficulties. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the provinces have too many members each to make for uncomplicated direct elections. However, the present system is subject to the kind of abuse that Imran said was occurring.

Where exactly this leaves the current Senate Chairman, who was elected with the votes of PTI Senators, is not clear. Legally, it would take an unseating of those members elected by buying votes to precipitate a new Senate election, and that is by no means automatic. It would need the moving of a vote of no-confidence against the Chairman, its passage, and then the filling of the vacancy. This could take some time, and much would depend on the outcome of the coming general election. If the PTI was to do well in KP again, it would be set to fill any vacancies in the Senate it might cause. It should be noted that vacancies caused will be filled by the next Assemblies, and there cannot be any replay of the impugned poll. In that event, if the parties maintain the positions they had at the last Senate Chairman’s election, a fresh poll would be useless. One significant factor is whether the current Senate alliance will survive the parliamentary polls. Will the PPP remain in alliance with the PTI. Both have shown that they can be pragmatic enough to join hands if it means doing down the PML(N), but it should not be forgotten that they are competitors, particularly in Punjab. The only way their alliance can survive is if they are driven back into opposition. If recent by-election results are any indication, this is not out of the question, though it is still an outside possibility.

Remaining on the corruption theme, Imran told ticket aspirants not to give anyone any money, because he would be deciding tickets. It shows that Imran was keeping the reins firmly in his own hands. Therefore, if he opposed the sale of votes, it was because of opposition to corruption, rather than to support greater intra-party democracy. By refusing to allow that, at least, he is showing himself a traditional politician.

 

n          The writer is a veteran journalist and

founding member as well as executive

editor of The Nation.

Imran Khan has taken on the system, but has failed to provide viable solutions. By allocating Senate seats on party lines, more problems might be created than solved.