It has now become a familiar pattern that reports of horse-trading emerge during every election for the Senate, votes are bought and sold and then the affected political parties investigate the suspects and sometimes award them punishment.
Still, the practice has continued and the price per vote has risen. Politicians have earned a bad name and the spirit of having the Upper House of Parliament to safeguard the interests of the four federating units is nowhere to be seen.
The Election Commission (EC) has in the past failed to make any vote buyer or seller accountable. As for the parties, they may punish their lawmakers who sell votes, but those who pay to buy Senate seats have never been taken to task.
There was greater likelihood of vote-selling in the recent Senate polls because the assemblies were about to complete the five-year term and some of the greedy lawmakers who were unhappy with their leadership or had no chance of getting the party ticket for contesting the forthcoming general election decided to sell their votes as it was their last chance to make money.
As was the case during previous Senate elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the outcome caused some shocks amid allegations of horse-trading. Fully aware that their members would be tempted by offers of money by rival candidates, most parties fielded wealthy contestants for the Senate even if they were newcomers or had suspected loyalties. There are even reports that certain candidates paid some amount to their party’s lawmakers also to prevent them from falling prey to other wealthier contestants.
The candidates fielded by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the major partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa coalition government with the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), were a mix of loyalists and men with money. Loyalists Dr Mehr Taj Roghani and Faisal Javed were rewarded with party tickets as they were expected to stay faithful to the PTI in times of trial.
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Dr Roghani won one of the two seats reserved for women even though she got less number of votes than the PTI strength. Faisal Javed, who is always seen by party leader Imran Khan’s side at public meetings where he performs as stage secretary, easily won a general seat as the most committed PTI members, including ministers, were in the panel tasked to get him elected. Mohammad Azam Swati, who won one of the two seats for technocrats, could also be termed a loyalist as he has been with the PTI for some years now after having quit the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
At least three other PTI candidates were wealthy and one was a newcomer in the party. Ayub Khan Afridi, who won a Senate seat, is a new entrant to the party as he joined it a few months ago. Fida Mohammad from Malakand district has been with PTI for the last few years while his brother, Nisar Mohammad, was a PML-N senator until recently. Fida Mohammad’s wealth apparently was the reason that he got the PTI ticket and won.
The two PTI losers were Khayal Zaman Orakzai and Latif Yousafzai. The last named is a lawyer associated with the Hamid Khan-led Professional group, but he had no chance of victory on the technocrat seat as Azam Swati was on top of the PTI priority list of candidates and had the resources to match his candidature.
Khayal Zaman Orakzai’s defeat was a major setback for the party as he is resourceful. Either he didn’t spend the required amount or rival candidates paid more for votes. He is presently the PTI MNA from Hangu district and it is said he wanted to become a senator as the electorate in his constituency were angry with him for failing to show up in the area these past years. Many committed party workers weren’t happy with the allocation of tickets for Senate, but they realised that ‘electables’ would always get preference in the present state of politics in every party, even PTI which hitherto stood for a change.
Take the example of Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, which had fielded its provincial head, Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, and Talha Mahmood for the general seats. The former got merely four votes and lost because he isn’t resourceful. In comparison, Talha Mahmood, a moneyed man from Abbottabad, won hands down and bagged an impressive 18 votes, three more than the 15 votes of the JUI-F legislators in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. It doesn’t require much imagination as to how he managed to get those three votes.
Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) failed to get its lone candidate, Anisazeb Tahirkheli, elected despite having 10 MPAs because two had deserted the party and a few others reportedly sold their votes. The Awami National Party (ANP) had no chance to seek election for its only candidate, Shagufta Malik, on the women’s seat as the party has only five MPAs and its alliance with other parties didn’t fetch it enough votes. Jamaat-i-Islami with seven MPAs did better by getting its provincial head, Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, elected as senator.
The biggest gains were made by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which in the 124-member provincial assembly has just six MPAs plus Ziaullah Afridi who had joined it after being expelled by the PTI on corruption charges. It surprisingly won two Senate seats, one general seat for Bahramand Khan Tangi, a party loyalist who isn’t very resourceful, and the other for former Senator Rubina Khalid on women’s seat. It could have won even a third seat for a wealthy Islamabad resident, Faisal Sakhi Butt, if his three votes had not been rejected because the voters had put an identification mark on the ballot papers to prove that they had indeed voted for him. It doesn’t require much imagination that the magic formula applied by the PPP to win two Senate seats from the province was due to the lure of money.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) too won an extra Senate seat as its 16 MPAs were enough to win only one seat. Its candidate for technocrat seat, Dilawar Khan, is a former customs officer and is into the lucrative tobacco business. Former chief minister, Pir Sabir Shah, won the other PML-N seat in general category.
There are stories galore that Rs30 to 40 million were paid for one vote for general seats and Rs5 million for a vote for women or technocrat reserved seat. A ‘package’ was on offer, sometimes even promising a ticket for contesting the next general election because the seller in most cases would be found out and expelled from his or her party. Surprisingly, women legislators were among the vote-sellers, showing that female politicians have started doing what their male counterparts have done since long.
In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 11 MNAs had to elect four members of the Senate and this obviously meant a game of money. Former FATA Senators, Hidayatullah and Hilalur Rahman, were sure to win as the former’s father and the latter’s brother, who are MNAs, had made an agreement with other MNAs during the previous Senate polls in March 2015 to take turns to share the seats in March 2018.
In March 2015, the brothers and cousins of sitting MNAs — Shahjee Gul Afridi, Nasir Afridi, Dr G G Jamal and Sajid Turi were elected members of the Seante. The favour was paid back and Hidayatullah from Bajaur Agency and Hilalur Rahman from Mohmand Agency were elected senators. The other two newly elected Senators, Mirza Khan Afridi and Shamim Afridi, won’t have won without opening their purse.