14.03.2015 Author: Natalya Zamarayeva

Pakistan: Elections to the Upper House of Parliament – Traditions and Challenges

El56456Pakistan held elections to the Senate on 5 March 2015. A preliminary analysis of the results shows that they did not bring significant changes to the alignment of the main political forces in the Upper House of Parliament. The Pakistan Peoples Party, second in political power, has a small lead in relation to the ruling administration. The Senate elections in the country’s history are considered second in importance after the general parliamentary in the Lower House, the National Assembly.

The main outcome of the election campaign was a bitter struggle between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N named after its founder Muhammed Nawaz Sharif) and other political parties, the consolidation of major opposition forces, which in the past two years were scattered; the further process of reforming the electoral system of Pakistan by the ruling administration; the scandals and challenges of 2015 was business as usual.

The Upper House of Parliament, in accordance with Article 226 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is comprised of 104 seats. The term of office for senators lasts 6 years. Every three years half of the Upper House is replaced. This procedure was established in 1975 according to the Senate (Election) Act.

In March 2015 the terms ended for the senators who had won elections in 2009, and the leaders of the 2012 race continue their work until 2018. This practice demonstrates a certain continuity; on the other hand, it slows down the process of replacing the senate body.    As a result of the 2009 and 2012 elections, the majority of the seats in both Houses of Parliament were filled by members of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which was the ruling Party during those years . The Coalition for the Federal Government had strong support in the legislative and executive bodies of the country.

In 2013 the PML-N party came to power. Nawaz Sharif assumed the office of prime minister in June 2013. The previous ruling PPP moved to the opposition camp, around which the main political parties concentrated, having an insignificant number of seats in the National Assembly and Senate.

The Senate elections of 2015 confirmed the expected assumption of the reduction in the number of the PPP’s seats (but not the loss of dominance) and at the same time, of the strengthening of the rule of the PML-N.  In the end, the PPP received 27 seats, and the PML-N received 26.  However, the struggle for the Senate is far from being over. The second scuffle between the PPP and the PML-N will be for leadership positions in the Upper House. And in this round the winner will be the one who manages to secure the support of other political parties represented in the Senate. The United National Movement (MQM), the Popular National Party (ANP), the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid e Azam Group), the Pakistan Movement for Justice (Tehreek-e-Insaf).

The first four parties currently belong to the opposition bloc, and likely support the PPP.   The main intrigue is occurring around the Movement for Justice party (Tehreek-e-Insaf), It is not part of the opposition, seeking to hold an independent line of conduct. However, recently its leader, Imran Khan, reconciled his relationship with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; its deputies returned to work in the National Assembly (resignations were submitted but not accepted by the NA speaker in August 2014).

The electoral campaign of 2015 for Pakistan’s Upper House of Parliament was not without surprises.  On the night of 4 to 5 March 2015 (election day), the president of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, issued a decree abolishing two rulings. First: the Statutorily prescribed order from 7 July 1975. Second: the Executive order of 2002, issued by former president Pervez Musharraf. The presidential decree of 2015 sharply limits the number of seats for representatives from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  Further, the presidential decree stated elections to the Upper House of Parliament may be postponed for representatives of FATA until the new electoral procedures have been approved. Elections for the speaker and vice-speaker of the Senate also should be held without participation of the senators or the FATA.

The election commission of Pakistan was a little delayed in their reaction to the presidential decree, calling it “vague and internally contradictory”. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who at the time of the election campaign was on an official visit to Saudi Arabia, described the elections to the Senate as “a new round of democracy in Pakistan”. Lawmakers from FATA intend to file a petition in the Supreme Court and attempt to challenge the presidential decree.

Natalya Zamaraeva, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan Institute for Near-East Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

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