On 5 March 2015, deputies of provincial legislative assemblies elected senators to vacant seats of the Upper House of Parliament. The main political party, the oppositional Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML N) received almost equal number of seats as a result of the elections: 28 and 27, respectively. The length of their terms, as per the constitution, is 6 years, and for chairman and deputy chairman is 3 years. In contrast to the National Assembly, the Senate cannot be dissolved.
The second round of voting, elections for the chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, was scheduled by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for 12 March 2015. The PPP and PML N are again locked in a battle for control of the Senate.
The third power in parliament, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, headed by Imran Khan, participating for the first time in the election campaign for the Senate, immediately obtained 6 seats. Its leader refused to support the leading party in the country, having threatened to boycott the electoral campaign. He again pushed the government in the long-standing demand for the formation of a judicial commission to investigate fraud of the May 2013 general elections.
Meanwhile, the leading parties formed a coalition. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, PML-Q, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, and the Balochistan National Party-Awami all joined the PPP. As early as the initial stage, many in Pakistan presumed that the PPP could place its candidate in the chairman’s position with support from the said parties, and also from FATA representatives and independent senators. Right from the beginning the likelihood of the opposition candidate’s potential victory was so obvious that the governing PML N quickly initiated discussions with PML Q and the religious right JUI-F, with the goal of removing them from the circle of PPP’s allies. The ruling administration managed to break the ranks of the opposition.
On 9 March 2015, with reduced numbers, the alliance of the opposition party PPP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, and the Balochistan National Party-Awami unanimously nominated Senator Mian Raza Rabbani (PPP member) for chairman of the Senate. At the same time the alliance did not ease off its fight for independent senators. On 10 March 2015, the newly elected Senator of Balochistan, Mir Muhammad Yousaf Badini joined the camp of Asifa Ali Zardari.
The single candidate from the opposition did not stop the ruling block. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz used all leverage on opponents. They encouraged the MQM to reconsider the decision to join the opposition. In response, its leader Altaf Hussain asked the government for preferences for the urban and rural population of the Sindh province under the slogan ‘All the best for the people of the province’. In 2013 during the electoral campaign for the National Assembly, leaders of the MQM were inconsistent in their position, running from camp to camp, and eventually, supported Nawaz Sharif. But further cooperation between PML N and MQM collapsed a few months later. The small political party from Sindh did not receive the promised posts in the central government.
The ruling PML N initially nominated the Chairman of the National Party, Hasil Bizenjo, for the position of Senate Chairman. This was the right estimation. The NP is part of the ruling coalition of the federal government and the provincial government of Balochistan, where the ruling PML N is the largest political force.
Two days before voting, when it became clear that about 50 senators expressed support for the candidacy of Raza Rabbani, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif realized he was losing the senate. He quickly changed his tactics, supporting the candidacy of Raza Rabbani. Moreover, he stated that PML N will not nominate a candidate for the upcoming elections. But that did not mean he was renouncing his struggle for influence in the Upper House of Parliament.
On the eve of the vote a fierce struggle unfolded for the post of deputy chairman of the Senate. Small political parties joined it: The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the Balochistan National Party – Mengal (BNP-M). A few names were named in the Pakistani media.
Studying for many years the political system in Pakistan, one understands that at each step in the higher echelons of power there are tough, calculating compromises of politicians, undertaken to protect their interests. As a result of the meeting on 11 March, the day before the elections, between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Rehman Fazlur, leader of JUI-F, it was agreed to nominate JUI-F’s Ghafoor Haideri as the candidate for the position of Senate deputy chairman. This was a good choice, simultaneously representing the interests of the religious right block of the party and a candidate from the troubled province of Balochistan.
Many in Pakistan believe that the election of Mian Raza Rabbani and Ghafoor Haideri became possible thanks to the agreement made between A. Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Maulana F. Rehman.
On 12 March 2015, Mian Raza Rabbani and Ghafoor Haideri were elected to the posts of chairman and deputy chairman, respectively. A little later that day, they took their oaths in accordance with Articles 53 (2) and 61 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Briefly summarizing, we can draw several conclusions.
First and foremost, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was not able to consolidate in a single pair of hands the executive and legislative branches of power in Pakistan. Heading the federal government coalition mainly consisting of the members of PML N, having the majority of seats in the Lower House of Parliament, the Prime Minister fought desperately for the Senate, but lost. Moreover, the defeat of PML N in the senate elections of 2015 casts doubt on a potential PML N victory in the two election campaigns of 2018; the National Assembly and the Senate.
The second, and very significant conclusion is that in 2015 the religious right wing, once again, as in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, became the third political power in Pakistan.
The third conclusion, all three major parties of the country; the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party, and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl are wary of the country’s fourth political power; the general officers of the federal army.
Natalya Zamaraeva, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan Institute for Near-East Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”