Full Circle: From 2002 General Election To 2019 Senate

Full Circle: From 2002 General Election To 2019 Senate
While Opposition thought they were too big to fail, sources close to Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani claimed he had received calculated support by certain opposition members’ prior to the vote, writes Omar Bhatti.

Seasoned politician and twice-elected member of the National Assembly Hafiz Hussain Ahmed once spoke on the floor of the Parliament about 10 members of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who formed a splinter group called ‘PPP patriots’. “I don’t think they have responded to their zamir (conscience), but to the call of General Zamir,” he had remarked. The house was shocked by his straightforwardness, and the members laughed in response.

He had also named a sitting officer in the country and accused him of involvement in political engineering.

The backdrop and context to every election or vote in Pakistan is dominated by a history of give and takes, horse trading, and pressure tactics. Of course, a year earlier in 2018, the south Punjab mahaaz saw a radical shift of multiple electable joining PTI, some of whom had pledged allegiance to PML-N in 2013.

Even Field Marshal Ayub had bought a large number of basic democrats long before he contested elections against Fatima Jinnah whose popularity was declining at the time. In the 90s, the level of bribery and pressure tactics had reached such incredible heights that both PPP and Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) provided shelter to their lawmakers in Swat and Changa Manga respectively to hinder defections.

The modus operandi of swinging votes is meticulous and different in Senate. In the Senate vote on no-confidence motion against Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, government and its backers had to ensure opposition gets less than 53 votes despite having a majority of 64. The politics of pressure and buying is complex and sophisticated.

In order to swing senators, the target list comprises not all 64 members but the vulnerable ones: the ones that can be bought, pressurised and offered incentives based on insider information, weak points and shady backgrounds.  They could be paid off.

Some vote on their previous institutional alignments (hint, hint) while others are pressurised with the sword of NAB hanging over their heads (as It happened with PPP patriots) and Tahir Iqbal from South Punjab before 2018.

The broader consequence of this is that the very basis of our democracy i.e. electoral process has been impeded by external variables capable of outmanoeuvring the will and vote of the masses/parties. There is also a distinct level of hypocrisy that clouds the political class, especially those from the Senate.

While only 50 senators voted in favour of the opposition’s motion, a staggering 60 showed up when the opposition gathered post-vote to comprehend the disaster. Moreover, the opposition had no clue of the splits and division in their ranks. While Opposition thought they were too big to fail, sources close to the Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani claimed calculated support had already been assured by certain opposition members’ prior to the voting.

And in the midst of another ‘black day for democracy’, and cries of foul play, PTI’s government is claiming that the senators’ Zameer (Conscience) evoked them to vote against the opposition’s vote of no confidence. As simple as it sounds, it reminds me of what the late General (R) Ehtasham Zamir said in an interview in 2008.

The accused Ehtasham Zamir finally admitted, with an air of finality, that he orchestrated and engineered political parties to create a ‘friendly Parliament’ for Musharraf on the directive of Dictator Musharraf.

In an interview titled ‘The man who rigged the 2002 election spills the beans’, he even went on to state that corruption cases via NAB and FIA were used as pressure tactics to ensure King’s party survived but this had ‘pushed the country back instead of moving it forward’.

Post Senate vote, similar sentiments were found as those on the floor of the house in 2002. The journey from General Zamir to Senators’ Zamir has brought Pakistan full circle.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.