The battle to take Senate between PTI government and united opposition has been intensified in the last two weeks. The president has summoned the Senate session to debate and to vote on the motion of no confidence against chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani. The motion was moved by the opposition parties in Senate. The government and its allies have moved the no-confidence motion against deputy chairman Senate Saleem Mandiwala of PPP.
Both sides are making all out efforts for its success. The opposition has 67 senators in total while the government has 37 senators. The opposition has more senators than needed to bring down the chairman senate and to elect their own chairman.
The government needs the support of at least 17 opposition senators to defeat the no-trust motion against Chairman Sanjrani. It needs change of hearts of 17 opposition senators. This change of heart or change of political loyalty comes with a heavy price. The money and ministerial positions in the government is the cost.
The government needs to involve in horse trading and change of political loyalty on a massive scale. It needs dirty tactics and dirty money to lure the opposition senators in big numbers. Without buying the senators and causing big defections in PML-N, the government cannot win the battle for Senate. With use of dirty tactics and money, the government might be able to save the current chairman of Senate but it will be great loss of democratic traditions and democracy in general.
The government is eying on the PML-N senators who were elected as independents as the result of a Supreme court decision. They can vote for current chairman without getting into the trouble for violating the defection laws. So PML-N will be the main target in this whole process.
The PTI has to pay the heavy price of defections and horse trading in Senate. Same could be repeated with it when it will not in the government. It will tarnish the image of PTI as a clean and different sort of party. It is better for PTI government to accept the majority of the opposition parties in the Senate and let them bring their own chairman. Otherwise big damage will be done to PTI as a principled political party.
PPP leadership played key role in the election of current chairman. PPP joined hands with PTI and Baluchistan senators to elect Sanjrani as chairman. The rebellion in Baluchistan PML-N denied it the majority in senate. So Sanjrani came from nowhere to become Chairman Senate. He was the non-entity politically speaking. PPP consider it its big achievement at the time to deny PML-N chairmanship of Senate. So what has happened in last few months that PPP leadership changed its mind and heart?
The recent arrests and NAB references seems the reason of this change. PPP leadership hoped that powers that be will give them some concessions as the return for its services in Baluchistan and Senate election. But these expectations never materialised.
But post the fake accounts cases and the arrests; the PPP changed his mind about Baloch rights, which he had put before his own party man, Raza Rabbani — whom the PML-N had suggested as the consensus candidate for the post of chairman. But that was back then. Now the PPP wants to draw first blood.
The two parties and their allies have the numbers to comfortably remove the Senate chairman; the numbers on the other side are far fewer, though they have muscle power which the opposition cannot match. It remains to be seen if the muscle can be flexed enough to decimate the comfortable majority enjoyed by the PPP, the PML-N and others.
But whatever the outcome of the fight in the Senate, it will remain a sideshow in the larger game of politics, because that is simply what the Senate is. The opposition wants to secure a victory in Senate to psychologically boost the morale of its supporters. But it will not change the political landscape in the country. It will further polarise the politics in the country.
Whether this made the election controversial and dirty or simply more controversial and dirtier than usual will depend on who is asked. But now that the PPP feels it has been dumped by the establishment, it wants to ‘wrong’ the right of 2018 — or as it argues, it now wants to realign the Senate as the general elections has drawn new lines.
And an embittered PML-N, pressured by cases and arrests, is willing to join hands with the PPP, whom it was not willing to trust until recently. Be that as it may, whichever way the move of no-confidence against the Senate chairman goes, it will still remain a sideshow. At best, it will be a small victory for one of the sides, but chances are it will have little impact on the larger stage.
Even if the opposition brings in a new chairman Senate, the accountability drive against the opposition will not slow down — not for the near future at least. And neither will there be any other concessions such as fewer arrests or more bail orders. Additionally, the cooperation between the PPP and PML-N in the Senate will not really lessen the trust issues between the two parties any more than the election of Sadiq Sanjrani bridged the gap between Asif Ali Zardari and the establishment.
Neither will the challenges facing the PTI lessen considerably if the no-confidence move fails: it will continue to struggle with the economic challenges and the governance ones, as well as dealing with a hostile opposition and an increasing sullen media.
And yet the Senate game will be played and for more than one round. Because a cornered opposition has few cards apart from the ones it holds in the upper house. Angry and pressured, it wants to bare its teeth.