06 March 2015

Senate Elections and Balochistan

Courtesy: The Nation



The Senate is the upper house of Pakistani Parliament and it has been designed to give equal representation to all federating units. Elections for half of the Senate seats take place after every three years. Eventful Senate elections of 2015 raised the issue of horse-trading and the Pakistani media was taken over by it. However, some important issues relating to Senate elections in Balochistan were ignored by the mainstream media of Pakistan.

PML-N is the single largest political party in Balochistan Assembly with 18 members. Nawab Sanaullah Zehri is the provincial president of PML-N. Two out of three senator-elects from Balochistan are brother and brother-in-Law of Nawab Sanaullah Zehri. This is the biggest example of nepotism in the country and yet it has escaped the due criticism in mainstream media.

Senate tickets to candidates in Balochistan were finalized by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself. Nawaz Sharif was in no position to deny the request of Mr. Zehri to issue tickets to his close relatives because Nawaz Sharif himself is the torchbearer of nepotism in Pakistan.

It’s puzzling to fathom how the people of Balochistan will be served by the two persons, whose only source of ‘eligibility’ is a close relationship with the provincial chief of PML-N.

Issuing tickets to relatives of Nawab Zehri was not the only blunder that PML-N committed in Balochistan. PML-N issued a ticket to Kalsoom Parveen who is a sitting senator of BNP-Awami. Previously she had completed a term in the Senate representing PML-Q. Nawaz Sharif ignored the female candidates of PML-N in Balochistan and issued ticket to a woman who is technically still a part of BNP-Awami. This one instance is enough to prove how much Mr. Sharif cares about merit and loyal members of his party.

The Kalsoom Parveen fiasco not only questioned the political morality of PML-N leadership but it also resulted in the loss of two Senate seats for PML-N from Balochistan.

Disgruntled members of PML-N Balochistan, led by speaker Jan Jamali refused to accept Kalsoom Parveen as a ticket holder of PML-N. Mr. Jamali instead fielded his daughter in Senate elections. Kalsoom Parveen managed to win but PML-N stalwarts like Sardar Yaqoob Nasir lost from Balochistan. Again, the politically and morally incorrect decision of PML-N high command resulted in creating divisions in PML-N Balochistan. This will result in political instability, which is the last thing that Balochistan can afford at the moment.

In order to resolve the differences in the provincial leadership of PML-N, Nawaz Sharif sent a team led by Federal Minister Khawja Saad Rafique. This team stayed in Quetta for three days and tried to canvass support for PML-N candidates in the Senate elections.

The three-day long stay of a federal minister in Quetta was very interesting considering that federal ministers don’t normally bother to visit Balochistan. The only time a federal minister graces Balochistan with his presence is when the Prime Minster arrives or when there is an extraordinary situation such as Ziarat residency attack or the massacre of Shia-Hazaras.

The three-day tour of Balochistan by the federal minister once again proves that the federal government only cares about Balochistan when there is a political gain at stake, like the Senate elections. Other than that Balochistan is a forgotten province that is not any way near the priority list of Islamabad.

Since its inception, the Senate has not done any good other than bringing investors and close relatives of politicians to the Parliament. Until and unless meaningful reforms are introduced in the Senate elections, the upper house will not contribute anything positive. Reforms should not be like the ‘show of hands’ method suggested by PML-N and PTI to strengthen the stranglehold of Political Parties on senate elections. Political parties are not interested in reforming the way senators are elected because in such a case many political stalwarts, who can’t win popular elections, will lose the opportunity to enter the Parliament.

The only feasible alternative is that Senate elections should be held through popular vote, as is the case in the US. Just like General Elections, the public should vote for Senate elections once in three years. This would not only close the doors of opportunists to enter the Parliament, the people of Balochistan will also be able to elect their genuine representatives. At the same time these elections would act as midterm elections where the government will not change but the legislative capacity of government will reduce if it has performed poorly during the first half.

Having said that, this reform is in conflict with the vested interests of almost all major political parties of Pakistan and it is least likely that this suggested reform can ever translate into reality. Therefore, the Senate will continue to be a showcase of people with heavy financial resources and political connections.

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