In a major setback for Pakistan’s opposition parties, ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s candidate Sadiq Sajrani was reelected as the Senate chairman on March 12.
The voting process for the top slot of the upper house of the parliament had been overshadowed by the revelation of hidden cameras at the polling booth. All through the day, both the government and the opposition had accused each other of allegedly making attempts to rig the election.
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) Vice President Maryam Nawaz criticized the government by calling them “habitual, certified stealers.” “They have become so panicked that they have resorted to using cameras to spy on their members when phoning agencies [wiretaps] proved to be futile,” she said.
The government, for its part, has vowed to expose the opposition for allegedly installing cameras to monitor its members. “Even though they [Pakistan Democratic Movement, a coalition of opposition parties] are thieves, they want to portray themselves as the victims. We will uncover who was behind this,” Information Minister Shibli Faraz said following the incident.
“How did they know that cameras were present? They did it themselves,” he said.
As expected, the opposition has challenged the results after seven votes cast in favor of their candidate were rejected for different reasons. In fact, the PDM’s senior leadership has claimed that their candidate won the election regardless of what the official results say.
The opposition is also likely to use the spy-cam incident to undermine the legitimacy of the election and the likely winner’s credibility in the coming days and weeks. Overall, the development is going to further choke the parliament’s ability to work and legislate.
The election’s result shows that the opposition’s candidate didn’t win the election even after having the majority of votes. In terms of representation, the PDM, an 11-party opposition alliance, had a majority in the Senate and should have won the chairmanship easily if all of its members had voted for Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, who is their candidate. As has happened in the past, numbers necessarily do not ensure a party’s win in Senate elections as wider political and institutional support determines the endgame. Back in 2019, Sanjrani had survived a no-confidence vote despite publicly not having enough support for his candidature. However, he was reportedly supported by the country’s powerful military and thus won the election.
Sajrani’s win will offer the ruling party a moment of respite after a tough few weeks of losing by-elections and a crucial senate seat to the opposition last week. However, this doesn’t mean that the ruling party’s political and governance challenges are over. After today, Prime Minister Imran Khan cannot afford to continue with the way things have been managed by his party over the last two years. Khan should know that after today’s loss, the opposition will be more desperate and aggressive in its attempts to topple the current government and expose the government’s backers in different institutions, particularly the military establishment.
Khan should know that the PMLN’s revival in Punjab has not only exposed the PTI’s governance failures but is fast becoming a real challenge when it comes to breaking the government’s allies for a potential vote of no-confidence in the province.
After today’s loss, the opposition should be expected to put in all efforts to plan its “long march” against the government. Such a volatile political environment will only make the government’s day to day functioning even more difficult.
Amid this, growing inflation in the country is a mounting challenge in itself. Over the last two years, the ruling party has lost its popularity considerably due to a sharp rise in prices of everyday commodities and if elections were to take place today, PMLN would surely sweep Punjab. Khan not only needs to bring major changes in his cabinet, particularly in his Punjab province team, but should also work to revamp the party’s grassroots support structure once again. Holding the long-delayed local government elections in Punjab is one way to do it. But it is unclear when that is going to happen. PTI still faces a serious threat from internal factionalization and should not be sure if its allies in the government will continue to support it.
Today’s win shows that the ruling party may still have the support of the military establishment. If that is the case, the coming days and weeks will be tough for the military establishment itself. As the opposition ramps up pressure, the military would want Khan to do everything to deliver on the governance end, particularly in Punjab. Khan’s party may have won the Senate Chairman’s election. However, his relationship with the military establishment will be tested in the coming months with public angry over skyrocketing prices and complaints about the ruling party’s economic mismanagement.
The changes the Khan government makes, if any, in the coming days, will tell a lot about the prime minister’s fate for the remaining tenure in power.