Khyber Pakhtunkhwa braces for Senate elections

Political negotiations begin in the province as PTI announces it will run for Senate

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa braces for Senate elections
Although Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) has resigned from the National Assembly, refusing to become part of the parliament until their demands of a probe into the fairness of the 2013 elections is met, the party has announced it will participate in the upcoming Senate elections. This will be the party’s first entry into the upper house of parliament.

Eleven political parties have representatives in the 104-member Senate. In March, half of them will complete their six-year terms. Elections for members to replace them will be held on March 3.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan announced that his party would contest the Senate elections, but would not return to the assemblies until the formation of the judicial commission to investigate the alleged election rigging. Tehrik-e-Insaf lawmakers have resigned from the National Assembly, the Punjab Assembly and the Sindh Assembly, but not from the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The party continues to lead an alliance that rules the province. The Sindh Assembly speaker has accepted the resignations of four PTI legislators. The party did not win any seats in the Balochistan Assembly in the last elections.

Party leaders and political analysts say Imran Khan has softened his stance against the government in the recent weeks, and the party wants to focus on governance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where 46 provincial assembly member belong to the PTI.
PTI is confident it will win four or five seats in the Senate from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

“Our party will participate in the Senate polls only from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where elections were fair,” a PTI leader from the province said. “We will not run any candidates from the provinces where the party legislators have resigned.” Boycotting Senate elections from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would hurt the interests of the people of the province, he said.

The PTI leadership is confident it can win four or five seats in the Senate from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one from Punjab, where they have 54 members.

Although the names of the candidates have not been announced yet, party insiders say Jahangir Tareen, the central secretary-general, Hamid Khan, the noted advocate from Lahore, Azam Khan Swati, the provincial party president in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Khalid Masood are strong contenders for Senate tickets.

Liaquat Khattak, brother of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Ali Asghar Khan, son of Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan, and Qazi Anwar, a prominent Peshawar-based lawyer who has previously been a Senator with the support of the ANP and the PPP, are also among PTI’s likely candidates.

But giving tickets to leaders who do not belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may cause problems for the party leadership. “A number of our central leaders who are not from Khyber Pakhtunkwha and were unable to win their own seats in the general elections, are now vying to become Senators from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said a PTI lawmaker from Swat district. Tehrik-e-Insaf legislators will resist such moves, he said. “If they get tickets despite the resistance, we may vote for candidates of other parties.”

Journalists in Peshawar believe that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly might repeat its history of buying and selling votes in the Senate elections. “We have seen in the past that some members of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly succumb to the lure of money,” said Lehaz Ali, a seasoned journalist. He said almost all political and religious parties had expelled some lawmakers and given others show-cause notices for selling votes in the previous Senate elections.

Some provincial lawmakers from the PTI are unhappy with the party’s leadership and may vote for candidates from other political parties or independent candidates, political observers say.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Swabi’s Awami Jamhoori Ittehad (AJI), coalition partners of the PTI in the province, are trying to send their own leaders to the Senate. The JI leadership wants to elect its provincial chief Professor Ibrahim with the support of the PTI, while the AJI, led by the wealthy Takarai family of Swabi, can also influence some PTI voters to send their candidate to the upper house.

The five opposition parties in the province – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP), Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and Pakistan People’s Party – have also started negotiations to form an alliance to get as many seats in the Senate as they can. Maulana Ataur Rehman, brother of the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra of the PML-N, and Azmat Hayyat Khan, former vice chancellor of Peshawar University and a leader of the QWP, are key contenders from the opposition parties.

The ANP, which ruled the province before the 2013 elections, will lose six out of its 12 senators, but will not be able to send in any new ones. The PPP may not be able to win a Senate seat from the Khyber Pakhtunwa province either.