The following article was published in Arab News on January 18, 2021 at the following link.
The 10-party opposition alliance known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was considering, not so long ago, that it would resign from the National Assembly and four provincial Assemblies under the mistaken belief that this would render the Senate electoral college incomplete and in turn, would disrupt the Senate Election due before 11th March.
It was perhaps this misunderstanding that prompted PDM President Maulana Fazalur Rehman to make an announcement to this effect in early December last year. It does not reflect so well on the PDM leadership that they were about to plunge the country and their own parties into a huge political crisis based on a poor understanding of electoral laws and the political process of the country – something they should have known extremely well because it was directly related to their vocation.
It was consultation with four PPP lawyers during the PDM summit on January 1 that finally convinced the PDM leadership that resignations from the assemblies would have no effect on the validity of the Senate election. In fact, this should not have been so difficult to understand because the Elections Act 2017 is quite explicit about it and Section 130 clearly stipulates that any vacancies in the assemblies will not affect the validity of the Senate election.
Once it became obvious that resignations could not affect the Senate election, it was logical to hold back on resignations at least till the Senate election was over. Discarding the resignation option also made participation in the Senate election a natural choice. Boycotting the Senate election would have meant that five of the PDM parties — PPP, PMLN, JUIF, ANP and BNP — would be deprived of approximately 19 seats in the Senate which is more than a third of the total 52 seats up for grabs in March.
Although PDM parties would collectively retain a sizeable representation in the Senate after the upcoming election, PML-N will probably suffer the biggest setback as it will be displaced by PTI as the largest party in the Senate and its representation will be cut down from the current 30 to about 18. PPP, JUI-F, ANP and BNP will, on the other hand, retain their strength and may even slightly improve during the next Senate election.
To the credit of PPP, the case against the resignations at this stage and for contesting the Senate election was convincingly and successfully pleaded by its leadership and legal experts.
JUI-F had been against sitting in the current assemblies from day one and even now it is the strongest proponent of quitting these assemblies, what to talk of contesting new elections whether of the Senate or by-elections in the seats which have fallen vacant. But the case of PMLN is rather strange and difficult to understand because it had apparently been supporting resignations out of ignorance and agreed to contest Senate and by-elections only after the January 1 meeting where the only logical voice was that of PPP.
PPP was also proactive in persuading the Election Commission to hold the by-election on two National Assembly and six Provincial Assemblies’ vacant constituencies where by-elections were long overdue because the constitution requires election within 60 days of the occurrence of a vacancy, but the ECP was deferring elections because of the pandemic. PPP probably felt that three Sindh Provincial Assembly seats, likely to be won by PPP, may make a difference in their showing in the Senate election.
Irrespective of which party wins these seats, it makes a lot of sense to hold elections for these constituencies before the Senate election as the outcome of these elections may impact the Senate election.
Persuaded by the PPP, PDM parties have also agreed to participate in the by-elections scheduled to take place now around mid-February.
The decision to contest Senate elections may also necessitate the postponement of the long march announced by PDM till after the Senate election. The reversal on the PDM position on three issues — resignations, Senate election and by-elections — has created some space and bought a little more time for efforts to avoid the ultimate face off between the PDM and PTI.
It is yet to be seen whether the PTI and other powerful state institutions will be able to make use of this opportunity to achieve the two key objectives. One, to restore some modicum of a working relationship between the opposition and the government within the parliament and, two, to make the accountability process more even handed. If these two objectives are achieved during the next two months, the current government will be able to complete its five year term and focus on some of the pressing issues facing the country. Otherwise, a period of greater political instability may ensue which is in nobody’s interest.