Senate election 2018

Traditionally elections for Senate, the house of federation, held every three years to elect 52 senators ( half of the total) would be held without much suspense because of its limited electoral college and predictability of the results due to the already known strength of the political parties in their respective provincial assemblies. In post Zia era the impact of the non partisan election of 1985, the big money flowing from Jihadist economy and the growing intervention of intelligence agencies at times did create suspense about the results in some provinces at some seats but this problem was of a limited nature. Buying and selling of votes in FATA has been a known practice due to the very limited nature of the electoral college and absence of political parties in the process. But the Senate election 2018 is proving to be an exception. It’s not just the brazen political engineering by the security establishment in these elections that has raised eyebrows but the conduct of certain political parties has  proved to be also  exact opposite of their professed positions.

But before coming to the details of the aforementioned developments it’s pertinent to note that after the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 the upper house has come to play far more important role than it used to play before. For example before 18th Amendment the government was responsible  only to National Assembly but now it’s responsible to both houses of the Parliament. In this way attendance of Senate sessions on the part of federal ministers and the Prime Minister isn’t just a matter of their choice. They are duty bound to attend and present reports to the house of federation. There are other areas where Senate’s role has been enhanced. Even before the 18th Amendment Senate had a crucial role in legislation but with its enhanced role now it has become more important for the power wielders to devise ways and means to control it.

During the last three years there have been a few senators of vey high caliber who have made valuable contributions but due to space constraints I shall confine myself to mentioning only two of them who have played an extraordinary role to raise the profile of the Senate. Mian Raza Rabbani, Chairman Senate for the last three years has taken significant initiatives for asserting and enhancing the role of the upper house. We all know that Parliament operate through standing and functional committees for discussing legislation and policy and also conducting monitoring of the different government ministries and departments. Raza Rabbani took measures to strengthen the working of these committees and ensure the presence of ministers, secretaries and other officials. But the most important initiative of Chairman Raza Rabbani was forming and convening the meeting of Committee of the Whole which turned the entire house into a committee to focus on important national issues such as access to justice, economy, reforms in FATA and many other issues. This provision has been there in Senate’s rules but it was practiced for the first time. These debates not only brought to fore many thorny issues but also came out with suggestions for resolving them through legislation. For example during debate on the issues relating to access to justice the issue of missing persons was also discussed. In this regard a consensus emerged in the house for coming out with legislation for regulating the work of the intelligence agencies of the country that are generally deemed to have a hand in most of the cases of enforced disappearances in the country. The proposed legislation could not take place as unfortunately the political parties didn’t find the courage for going ahead with the legislation but the issue has been duly flagged and remains on the agenda. Similarly it was thanks to the functioning of the Committee of Whole that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff could address and brief senators about the performance of their institutions and the challenges faced by them. Similarly senators are now part of the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

Senator Farhatullah Babar became what some people have described as ‘Conscience of the Parliament’ by consistently and boldly advocating supremacy of Parliament, sanctity of the Constitution, rule of law and the need for across the board accountability without any  holy cows. He was very keen to bring every section of ruling elites, including judges and generals into the accountability net. He sought information on perks and privileges of the holy cows inviting the wrath of powerful circles. He raised significant questions regarding foreign policy challenging the monopoly of the security establishment over areas which the Constitution doesn’t provide for. The warning in his farewell speech regarding the possibility of a clash between the de facto and de jure was very timely. Although both Raza Rabbani and Farhatullah Babar could neither reform the system nor could they change the direction of policy but they were able to bring important and genuine issues into national discourse which has been dominated by the scripted discourse of getting Nawaz Sharif under the garb of accountability.

Therefore it isn’t surprising to see the focus of massive political engineering by the security establishment turning towards the Senate elections 2018. “ Managing” Senate has become high on the agenda. Plan A was to delay the Senate elections and bring in a prolonged caretaker government. Parliamentary coup in Balochistan a few months ago orchestrated by the intelligence agencies was originally aimed at bringing in a pliable Chief Minister for dissolving the provincial assembly. But some developments on international front and Nawaz Sharif’s campaign of mass mobilization made that option impossible the plan B came to forefront for controlling the Senate by electing a pliable Chairperson. Nawaz Sharif’s Party or the candidate supported by it is to be kept away from the office. When PTI “hands over”  its Senators to the so called independent group of Senators ( who are anything but independent) and declares support for Chairperson from Balochistan it’s part of the script. Unfortunately PPP has also jumped on the establishment’s bandwagon. Had these guys uttered a single word about the continuing bloodshed in Balochistan or had they shown concern about the fate of large number of missing persons in Balochistan one would have understood their interest in electing someone from Balochistan. But it’s as usual a struggle for the control over upper house by the elected representatives and the deep state. It isn’t difficult to see as to who stands where.


n            The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs

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