Opposition turns the table on ruling PML-N

ISLAMABAD: In the Senate elections for chairman and deputy chairman on Monday, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) suffered a major setback at the hands of the opposition parties.

A total of 52 senators, including 51 who won Senate seats in March 3 elections and PML-N’s Dr Asad Ashraf, who won on March 1 to replace Nehal Hashmi, took oath before the election of Senate chief and deputy.

Sadiq Sanjrani, an Independent senator from Balochistan, defeated PML-N Chairman and Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq by 57-46 in the secret ballot.

For the deputy chairman’s seat, PML-N candidate from PkMAP Usman Kakar lost to Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian’s Saleem Mandviwalla by 54-44.

A total of 103 votes were cast for Senate chairman’s election of a total of 104 as Senator Ishaq Dar, who is currently in London, was not present to vote.

As many as 98 votes were cast for the Senate’s deputy chairman post as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, with five seats in Senate, did not vote.

The oath-taking ceremony of the 52 senators was held in the morning and the Senate session was adjourned for a few hours, as per customary practice, before being summoned again in the afternoon to elect chairman and deputy chairman.

PML-N Senator Sardar Yaqoob Khan Nasir, who was nominated by President Mamnoon Hussain as the presiding officer, administered oath to the new senators and chairman.

Sanjrani, after being sworn in as chairman, administered oath to the deputy chairman.

The election saw resonating slogans in favour of Asif Ali Zardari, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and late Benazir Bhutto from PPP-P activists who were seated in the visitors’ gallery. This put the new chairman at unease who repeatedly asked the charged visitors to maintain order and even asked the Senate security staff to expel those activists who were creating chaos.

The PML-N’s indecisiveness to finalise its candidate for the Senate chairmanship is cited as one of the key reasons for its defeat in the polls.

Till Monday morning, National Party chief and federal minister Hasil Bizenjo was the N-League’s pick for the chairman’s slot before the top N-League’s leadership had a change of heart, party sources said.

Sources said that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had agreed to Bizenjo’s candidature to run for Senate chairman but some party leaders were of the view that the N-League should field its own candidate and after extensive rounds of deliberations, Sharif finally decided in favour of Zafarul Haq before leaving for Lahore on Monday prior to the elections.

Earlier on Sunday, Sharif first chaired party meetings in Lahore and then flew to Islamabad where he discussed the nominations for Senate chairman and deputy chairman with senior party leaders and allies.

Sources said the names of Zafarul Haq and Bizenjo remained under consideration and a consensus was likely to be reached on Bizenjo’s nomination as candidate for chairman. The likely decision was to aim at countering the opposition’s candidate from Balochistan. Bizenjo’s name was expected to be announced prior to Senate election on Monday.

“The narrative that Balochistan is a deprived province which should be given top-level representation in the Senate especially in the backdrop of Senate chairman never elected from the province was too powerful a phenomenon to be ignored,” said a PML-N cabinet member, requesting anonymity.

However, after the N-Leaguers put weight behind Zafarul Haq given that he enjoys a good repute both in government and opposition circles, the PML-N leadership went for its original choice —Haq.

“But it was probably too late—which created uncertainty and floated the wrong impression across—that since N-League lacks the desired majority of 53 votes, it is therefore delaying to name a candidate,” said a close aide of Haq, wishing not to be named. “Such was the level of indecision that our candidate was not named even when the newly-elected senators had taken oath a few hours before the election of chairman and deputy chairman.”

Bizenjo had hinted about his Senate chairman candidature earlier on Monday in implied vibes. When asked by the journalists, a smiling Bizenjo did not confirm or deny that he was tipped to run for Senate chairman, then. “You can judge from (my) smile what the decision (about government’s candidate for Senate chairman) could possibly be.”

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