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Saturday Mar 13 2021

Live from the Senate: A day of controversies

A file photo of Parliament House

If the elections of the Senate chairman and deputy chairman could be summed up in one word, it would be “controversy”.

Friday started with members of the Opposition in the Upper House digging out hidden, and some not so hidden, cameras near the balloting booth, where votes were to be polled secretly.

As the controversy gained pitch, a new polling booth was quickly installed and presiding officer Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah formed two committees to investigate the hidden camera scandal.

Read more: PM Imran Khan congratulates Sadiq Sanjrani, Mirza Mohammad Afridi for securing top Senate slots

At 11am, 48 senators took oath on the floor of the House, of whom 32 had made it to the Senate for the first time. Among the new members was Yousaf Raza Gillani, who was elected last week as senator and was in the race that day to win the Senate chairmanship.

While Gillani is not new to politics, he has on and off been a member of the national assembly since 1985 and has also served as prime minister from 2008-2012. This was the first time he had been named senator.

Interestingly, in the 2018 general election, some 139 politicians were also fresh entrants to the National Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament.

After the oath taking, the drama began again.

As soon as voting progressed, and only four votes had been cast, the Opposition requested the presiding officer to turn off all cameras in the Senate gallery. But the biggest controversy of the day came after the results were announced. Seven votes with Gillani’s name stamped were rejected.

Senator Farook H Naek argued that these seven votes were valid as per rules. But then Senator Mohsin Aziz from the ruling party read out a separate set of rules, insisting that they must be rejected.

Read more: Opposition all set to challenge Sadiq Sanjrani's Senate win in court today

Still, Sadiq Sanjrani, the ruling party’s candidate, was declared victorious as the Senate chairman.

But that didn’t settle the debate. Later, former Punjab governor Rafique Rajwana told that the stamp on the ballot paper determines the intention of a voter. “Here it seems that Senators voting intentionally stamped on the name of Gilani, which clearly showed the voters' firm will to vote for Gilani,” he said.

The Opposition now promises to take this controversy to court.

Many watching in the parliament gallery were of the view that it would be a first if a political party challenges the result of the Senate chairman in court.

Read more: Govt candidates emerge victorious in hotly-contested Senate chairman election

Some experts were also quoting the Election Act 2017 which clearly states that “a ballot paper shall be deemed to have been marked in favor of a candidate if the whole or more than half of the area of the prescribed mark appears clearly within the space containing the name and symbol of that candidate."

But does his Act apply to the Senate polls, which are conducted by the Senate Secretariat and not by the Election Commission of Pakistan?

The debate and controversies, it seems, can only be settled now before a court of law.