April issue 2006

By | News & Politics | Published 18 years ago

Horse-trading in the recent election for the 11 Senate seats from the NWFP has begun to take its toll. The Deputy Speaker of the provincial assembly, Ikramullah Shahid, became the first casualty of the ongoing probe against unfaithful lawmakers from the ruling MMA, when he lost his office after being accused of selling his vote to non-MMA candidates. He resigned before voting on the MMA-sponsored no-trust move against him began in the assembly.

Soon afterwards, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F expelled four MPAs from the party on the basis of the findings of a three-member committee set up to identify those involved in horsetrading. The party’s provincial head, Maulana Amanullah, chaired the high-powered committee that included MNAs, Maulana Shujaul Mulk and Qari Fayyazur Rahman Alvi. The party also obtained the resignations of the other vote-selling MPAs, Maulana Dildar Ahmad from Kohistan district, minority member Gursaran Lal from Buner, Rukhsana Raz from Charsadda and Yasmin Khalid from Mansehra, and proceeded to send them to the NWFP Assembly Speaker Bakht Jehan Khan with the request to unseat them.

More fireworks are in store, with the JUI-F hinting that the probe is still ongoing, and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) coming under pressure to identify and punish its own disloyal MPAs. The NWFP Chief Minister Akram Durrani too, is under pressure to salvage his pride, as chief ministers in Pakistan are supposed to ensure victory in elections for party candidates by hook or by crook.

The sale of the Senate vote by several MMA MPAs has also widened the existing gulf between the JUI-F and Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s JI, the two major components of the six-party religious alliance. The existing mistrust could increase and pose problems for the MMA, a fractious alliance that has been kept intact primarily due to the commitment of the heads of the component parties. In the aftermath of the Senate polls, some JUI-F and JI leaders have been trading allegations with regard to the number of their unfaithful MPAs who violated party discipline. The JUI-F leadership believes mostly JI lawmakers proved unfaithful, while the JI leaders are convinced that JUI-F legislators were largely to blame for voting for non-MMA candidates. The blame-game is music to the ears of the leaders and members of rival political parties, who remain demoralised due to the spectacular MMA victory in the October 2002 general elections and all subsequent by-elections.

With the exception of the ruling PML and ANP, all other parties had to cope with horsetrading by its MPAs in the elections for Senate seats from NWFP Senate election. The former had fielded fabulously rich candidates with the clear intent to buy votes. It rejected the offer of two general Senate seats made by Chief Minister Durrani even though the PML’s 10 MPAs couldn’t get one Senator elected on their own. In fact, candidates needed 15-plus votes each to win a general Senate seat. The ANP, which has traditionally been strict to enforce discipline and expel disloyal legislators, was saved from embarrassment as none of its seven MPAs was willing to sell votes.

The MPAs belonging to PPPP, PML(N) and interior minister Aftab Sherpao’s PPP(S) are also believed to have sold their Senate votes. The provincial PPPP leaders have blamed two of their female MPAs, Ms Salma Babar and Ms Muniba, for betraying their candidate, Farhatullah Babar, in the election. Party leader Benazir Bhutto has reportedly ordered disciplinary action against any legislator who didn’t vote for PPPP candidates. However, the PPPP, by not taking action against unfaithful MPAs during the previous NWFP Senate polls, emboldened them to sell their votes once again. The PML-N has a total of four MPAs in the NWFP, two of whom have a soft corner for the MMA, and the third, parliamentary party leader Anwar Kamal Marwat, sided with the opposition and befriended the Saifullah family which, in keeping with the compulsions of local politics in their native Lakki Marwat district, is led by newly elected Senator Salim Saifullah Khan.

The PPP-S managed to win a Senate seat through its nominee, Ghufran Khan, despite the fact that PPP(S) MPA, Arshad Khan from Charsadda, has distanced himself from the party and is very critical of Mr Sherpao. The party also lost an important leader, former provincial minister Ghani Dad Khan, when he wasn’t given the ticket to contest the Senate election by the party, which obliged Ghufran Khan instead, a transporter from Swabi district. Ghani Dad took no time to rejoin the ANP, which he had quit years ago, to join the Sherpao-led coalition government in the early 1990s under which he proceeded to become a minister. Mr Sherpao must have realised how difficult it is to retain the loyalty of politicians who have joined his party simply to enter the corridors of power and not due to any ideological reasons.

However, it was the MMA that suffered the most in the Senate polls. The defeat of its candidates was a serious matter, as its MPAs were perceived to be ideologically and morally strong. They had generally resisted the temptation to fill their pockets with money being offered by rich vote-buying candidates in the previous NWFP Senate elections. This was no longer the case this time, as a number of MMA lawmakers — ranging from nine according to Chief Minister Durrani to 18 claimed by rival political parties — got paid to vote for non-MMA candidates. This was despite the fact that the MMA MPAs had taken an oath on the holy Quran to vote for party nominees, and had even sworn to divorce their wives upon failure to do so. An elderly and straight-talking JUI-F MPA, Maulana Mujahid Khan, publicly conceded that both the oaths were administered to about 70 MMA MPAs. Being a religious scholar, he has decreed that the dishonest MPAs should divorce their wives. In fact, his line of argument is that the kind of “Talaq” (divorce) oath administered to him and his fellow MPAs, bound them to even divorce every new wife that they take in future. One will certainly be hearing a lot more on this issue in future elections, when anti-MMA parties will be tempted to exploit this incident to discredit the religious parties.

Eight MMA senators lost their seats in the draw held to determine their tenure. They included JUI-F’s Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, Qari Mohammad Abdullah, Maulana Hidayatullah Shah, Azam Khan Swati and Mumtaz Bibi. The three unlucky JI Senators at the draw were Prof Khurshid Ahmad, Prof Mohammad Ibrahim Khan ad Dr Syed Murad Ali Shah. The three remaining members of the Senate from the NWFP whose term was cut short to three years as a result of the draw were ANP’s Ilyas Ahmad Bilour, PPPP’s Farhatullah Babar and PML’s Fozia Fakhruzzaman. Most of the outgoing senators were given tickets by their respective parties to seek re-election, but not all of them were rich or lucky enough to gain re-entry to the Senate.

The PML winners on general Senate seats were Salim Saifullah Khan and Ammar Ahmad Khan. On the reserved seats for women, PML’s Fozia Fakhruzzaman won, while former Peshawar High Court judge Mohammad Azam Khan lost narrowly to JUI-F and MMA’s Azam Swati and ANP’s Ilyas Bilour, on the technocrats’ seats.

Ammar Ahmad Khan, a young man from Dera Ismail Khan, was fielded by the PML even though his father, Gulzar Ahmad Khan and brother Waqar Ahmad Khan, who are both members of the Senate, claim to be independents. Senator Gulzar used to be Benazir Bhutto’s perennial host in Lahore and it is felt he is still loyal to her. He has seldom spoken in Senate sessions but is rich enough to win seats in the Senate whenever he wishes. The father and his two sons have set up a record of sorts, with three members of the family occupying Senate seats. Senator Gulzar’s brother Mukhtiar Ahmad Khan is district nazim for Dera Ismail Khan, having defeated Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s younger brother in the local council elections.

The MMA managed to win six Senate seats only, losing two seats that it should have won on the basis of its numerical strength in the NWFP Assembly. The Jamaat-i-Islami lost three seats, all of which they managed to win back, through Prof Khurshid and Prof Ibrahim on general seats and Afia Zia, a psychologist from Kohat, on women’s seat. However, the JUI-F had lost five in the draw, and won back only three seats, through Maulana Gul Nasib, Azam Swati and Talha Mahmood. One of its candidates, Qari Abdullah, lost his general seat while Dr Shahina Jamil, a wealthy physician who runs a private medical college in Abbottabad, was also defeated.

Dr Shahina Jamil and Talha Mahmood didn’t formally join the JUI-F but were still able to get JUI-F backing for their candidature. Azam Swati was also not an ideologically committed JUI-F worker and is no friend of the Jamaat-i-Islami — but he too was fielded by the JUI-F in the previous Senate elections as well as this time around. The decision to field such candidates stem from the JUI-F’s fears that it needs to support moneyed men and women to ward off offers of money to its own MPAs. This policy was partially successful as a number of JUI-F MPAs and allied members, including independents, still voted for candidates from rival parties who offered a better price for their precious votes. Such was the fear of losing MPAs in view of offers of money, that almost all the political parties fielded wealthy candidates and ensured that they doled out funds to their own lawmakers.

Stories of the sale and purchase of votes are still doing the rounds in Peshawar and NWFP. Although no evidence is available it is openly being said that the richer candidates are the ones who bought out MPAs to gain entry into the Senate. Similarly, MPAs who had reputations of wavering loyalties are being singled out as the ones who got paid in the Senate polls. The lifestyle of the MPAs, particularly the ones belonging to the MMA, is being closely monitored. Most MMA MPAs belonged to the lower and middle classes, and the fact that some of them have built new homes or bought luxury vehicles is prompting rivals to accuse them of making money on the basis of their newly attained political power.

The Frontier appeared to be nothing short of a big stable during the Senate elections, due to the not-so-secret horse-trading. Legislators were up for sale both in the NWFP Assembly and, later on, in the election of Senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The political parties, particularly the ruling MMA, have been under scrutiny and are under pressure to punish their disloyal legislators, in order to cleanse the badly tarnished reputation of the province and its lawmakers, and prevent the sale and purchase of votes in future. The JUI-F has taken the lead in sacrificing its four MPAs for alleged horsetrading , also spearheading the MMA no-trust move to oust Deputy Speaker Ikramullah Shahid. The voters are now expecting other parties to follow in the footsteps of JUI-F and take a similar stand against its own vote-selling legislators. It would also be more effective if the Election Commission of Pakistan, the government and the political parties joined hands in disqualifying senators who won by purchasing votes.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.