ISLAMABAD: All eyes are on the general seat from Islamabad in the March 3 Senate elections, with the reticent economist Federal Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh pitted against the veteran politician and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, comprising of the Senate’s largest electoral constituency.

As many as 172 votes are required to be obtained from 342 MNAs to secure Senate general seat from Islamabad, the highest number of votes required to win any Senate seat.

Initially, six candidates had submitted their applications for the general seat from Islamabad including Tariq Fazal Chaudhry from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) who was prevailed to withdraw his nomination as Gilani emerged as the candidate of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

“It’s do or die battle for us,” said a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) senator, requesting anonymity.

The source said Gillani’s victory from Islamabad general seat would be a vindication of PDM’s anti-government narrative.

Although, PML-N’s Chaudhry has withdrawn in favour of Gillani, the PPP is sceptical of PML-N’s support for Gillani in Senate elections, Business Recorder has learnt.

“There is a big number of PML-N MNAs loyal to Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. Recently, Gillani publicly dismissed the reports that establishment had any role in Senate elections — in total negation of Nawaz and his daughter’s narrative. Maryam was not happy with Gillani’s statement and she openly accused the establishment of trying to rig Senate polls,” the source said.

Speaking to Business Recorder, PML-N chairman and outgoing Leader of the Opposition in Senate Raja Zafar ul Haq denied any grouping in PML-N over Senate polls. “When it comes to voting for PDM candidates, the entire PML-N and its allies are united. Rumors of differences are concocted by our rivals to create a divide in PDM ranks,” he said.

Another PML-N leader, who also requested not to be named, said Sheikh is ‘obvious’ choice of establishment in Senate polls. “Politically, Gillani’s stature is much higher than Sheikh, but let’s not forget that in Pakistan five important federal ministerial portfolios are assigned with the consent of the security establishment; finance, interior, foreign, defence and defence production. Keeping in view that Sheikh is the finance minister, it’s not hard to tell whose constituency he represents as he has no electoral constituency of his own,” he contended.

In addition, he said, Gillani’s recent statement in favour of the establishment was a move to mend ties with the powers-that-be. “In the past, Gillani did a few things that proved extremely damaging for his relationship with security establishment. His famous ‘state within a state’ statement criticising the security establishment on the floor of the National Assembly when he was prime minister, where he also took on security establishment in the backdrop of Osama Bin Laden episode followed by his decision to remove secretary defence Lt-Gen Khalid Naeem Lodhi (retd) from office were some of the moves that attracted the ire of powerful quarters. We saw Gillani getting unexpected disqualification by the Supreme Court in contempt of court case and after a few months his son Ali Haider Gillani was kidnapped—apparently by militants,” the source said adding that Gillani has since been trying to appease the establishment.

Sources dismissed as untrue reports that Jehangir Khan Tareen, being a relative of Gillani, is lobbying for him. “At the moment, Tareen’s kinship with Gillani is not important for him. Lobbying for Sheikh will give Tareen a chance to once again get close to PM and a shrewd politician like him would never miss this opportunity,” said a PTI insider.

Numerically, PTI-led ruling coalition in National Assembly with 177 seats is in a position to secure 172 seats for Sheikh in Senate polls if they vote according to their party position. However, if the Senate polls are held by secret ballot, chances of parliamentarians voting on the basis of their interaction with the two contenders - with Gillani clearly preferred due to his more outgoing personality or horse-trading — remain high.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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