May 22, 2022

Explainer: How The Pakistan Senate Elections Work

Islamabad — As voting to elect new members for the Senate of Pakistan goes on, Media for Transparency looks at the complex elections process.

Division of Senate Seats

The upper house of Pakistan’s national parliament has 104 seats, with 23 seats for each of the four provinces, eight for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and four for Islamabad.

The Senate’s term runs for six years, but one-half of the senators retire every three years. Therefore, the 2018 Senate elections are being held on 52, or half of the total 104, seats.

Each province’s 23 total Senate seats are sub-divided into 14 general seats, four reserved seats for women, another four for technocrats and religious scholars, and one for Pakistani non-Muslims.

The four Senate seats for the federal capital include two general seats, one woman seat, and one seat for a technocrat. There is no representation for women, technocrats or non-Muslims in FATA whose all eight Senate seats are general seats.

The 2018 Senate election is being held for 12 seats in Punjab and Sindh, 11 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, four in FATA, and two in Islamabad.

The Election Process

The senators are elected by the members of the national and provincial assemblies through a preferential ballot where the members assign a rank to the election candidates on a ballot paper rather than voting for just one candidate.

For example, if a member provincial assembly believes his most favourite candidate on the ballot is Candidate A, the member will assign rank “1” to Candidate A. The member will then have to assign lower ranks, such a “2”, “3” and so forth, to all the other candidates on the ballot.

Each candidate requires a certain minimum number of votes to win a Senate seat. We call it the threshold for winning. This threshold is calculated by dividing the number of seats in the constituent assembly with the number of general Senate seats assigned to the constituent assembly or region. If, let’s say, Candidate C is ranked “1” by more assembly members than the threshold, Candidate C will be elected and will stop receiving further votes. Any further “1” vote marked for Candidate C will be transferred to the next most favoured candidate by the voter, say Candidate A. This is why the vote is known as a single transferable vote.

The members of provincial assemblies vote for candidates who will represent the provincial seats in the senate, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). They vote for general, technocrat, women and minorities seats separately. The FATA members of the national assembly elect the FATA senators while the entire national assembly takes part in electing senators from Islamabad.

Political parties nominate candidates for the senate seats before the election. This year, 133 candidates are in the running for the 52 seats, according to the ECP.

Political parties that have most representation in the constituent assemblies are likely to elect more senators since they get more votes.

Since the general senate seats and the size of each constituent assembly is different, the threshold for winning senate seats also varies.

Senators Heading Out

The highest number of senators retiring is 18 for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Nine Members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are retiring, five from the Awami National Party (ANP), four from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and one from the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf.

All four senators of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e Azam (PML-Q) will retire from the senate. It is unlikely that the PML-Q will be able to elect new senators since its presence in the constituent assemblies is insignificant.

Prominent senators retiring include senate chairperson Raza Rabbani, senate opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan, Taj Haider and Farhatullah Babar from the PPP, Shahi Syed from ANP, Mushahid Husain Syed from PMLQ, and former finance minister Ishaq Dar of PML-N. Mr. Rabbani and Mr. Dar are running for re-election, though.

Controversies surrounding the election

The 2018 Senate election has been surrounded by speculation and allegations of horse trading and selling of votes. The speculation increased when the Supreme Court declared Nawaz Sharif ineligible to head the PML-N and declared his party decisions, including the nominations of his party’s senate candidates, null and void dating back to July 2017.

The ECP has allowed the PML-N senate candidates to run as independents and the party’s provincial and national assembly membership is still likely to vote for these independent candidates. However, since the election is through secret ballot, it cannot be determined during polling if members broke from party lines.

Chairman PTI Imran Khan recently criticised the senate’s election process and vowed that if PTI is elected to government in the next general elections it would push for direct senate elections.

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