EDITORIAL: The furore over the Islamabad Senate seat won by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had yet to die down when intense lobbying and jockeying across the board was witnessed for the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman elections tomorrow. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has fielded incumbent Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani as its candidate for the top slot, and is still in discussions when these lines are being written about its nominee for Deputy Chairman. But what surprised and shook up the intense political scene on the eve of the polls was the ‘offer’ on March 9, 2021 by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) secretary general Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri to be its candidate for Deputy Chairman. Khattak revealed this to reporters after a meeting with Maulana Haideri in the presence of Sadiq Sanjrani. Although Maulana Haideri did not comment on the ‘offer’ then, later he rejected it out of hand as emanating from a government his party did not recognise as legitimate. Interestingly, following this development, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) special committee nominated Maulana Haideri as its candidate for Deputy Chairman, thereby elevating him to running mate for the PDM candidate for Chairman Yousaf Raza Gilani. The special committee also announced its decision to retain the seat of Leader of the Opposition for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after former incumbent Raja Zafarul Haq bowed out of the Senate. This would, if he wins, be Maulana Haideri’s second stint as Deputy Chairman, the first being under the then Chairman Raza Rabbani’s tenure. The belated refutation and condemnation of the so-called offer by the PTI to Maulana Haideri was further embellished by casting the move as an attempt to sow discord in the PDM, albeit unsuccessfully. During these to-and-fro goings on, some troubling noises emanated from the government’s side. Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan expressed total confidence that the government would win the coveted Chairman’s post despite the government being a hair’s breadth short of a majority in the upper house after the recent Senate polls. Information Minister Shibli Faraz on a TV show went a step further by asserting the government would do whatever was necessary to win the chairmanship. While refuting the ‘offer’ to Maulana Haideri, he argued the government could not be expected to play ‘nice’ when the opposition had allegedly resorted to corrupt practices during the Senate polls. It may be recalled that a controversy broke out after those polls regarding the ‘treachery’ of 15-16 PTI MNAs who either allegedly voted against Dr Hafeez Sheikh or deliberately spoiled their ballots in exchange for huge bribes. Reading between the lines of Shibli Faraz’s statement, the government is implying that it will be a no-holds-barred contest. Perhaps both PM Imran Khan and his redoubtable Information Minister do not realise what such statements and attitudes could do to the credibility of the PTI’s anti-corruption narrative, if not the credibility of the government itself. As it is, even the vote of confidence obtained by PM Khan from the National Assembly following the Hafeez Sheikh debacle has been rendered controversial over the actual number of PTI MNAs present and voting.
The intense lobbying on the eve of the contest tomorrow would be considered legitimate and according to parliamentary practice so long as no corruption was involved. However, given the murky goings on over recent days, the ‘everything is kosher’ attitude of the government would leave it with a lot of explaining to do if it is able to somehow convert its minority into a majority in the Senate tomorrow. Not only would this dent the high moral stand of the government that is its leit motif, it may also end up besmirching the fair face of our still fragile democratic system.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021