Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. It is primarily located between India and Afghanistan, although it shares a desert border with Iran and a mountainous border with China. As a former British colony, one would expect its government style to be based on the Westminster model. However, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic with a president.
The ruling party won 18 of the 48 seats in the Senate in Friday’s election. What does this mean for Pakistan?
A former British colony and part of the subcontinent, Pakistan threw off its British and Indian pasts. In the latter case, through the Mountbatten Plan, which separated Pakistan from India in 1947. In the former case, through a non-Westminster form of government.
The United Kingdom uses the quintessential parliamentary system. The Parliament is divided into two separate houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The British Prime Minister is elected by the House of Commons. There is no president; the monarch takes on the role as Head of State and the Prime Minister takes on the role as Head of State. The House of Lords (the upper house) has little power in the system. The House of Commons (the lower house) is able to dismiss the government and call for snap elections.
In Pakistan, there is no monarch. The President of Pakistan, who serves as Head of State, is elected by an electoral college consisting of the members of both house of parliament and of the provincial assemblies. The president has no real powers in Pakistan. He is a figurehead who is the face of Pakistan to the world. He does, however, have political power. As he is elected by both houses of parliament and the national assemblies, he tends to be a powerful politician of the ruling party.
The National Assembly
The National Assembly of Pakistan is the lower house of the Pakistani Parliament (Majis-e Šūrá, Shura Council). It consists of 342 members elected through single-member plurality votes (first past-the-post). However, the 70 seats reserved for women and religious minorities are allocated to the political parties using proportional representation. Like a Westminster parliament, the lower house can call for dissolution at any time. Political realities suggest this happens only if the ruling party sees its fortunes dropping in the not-too-distant future. The last National Assembly election was held on May 11, 2013. Thus, the next will be on or before June 1, 2018 (five years after the opening of the new Parliament).
The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz won a plurality of seats and formed a coalition government with two other center- and right-leaning parties: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) and Pakistan Muslim League (Functional). The three parties hold over 200 of the 342 seats. These 186 seats won by PML(N) constitute an increase of 94 seats over their 2008 showing, where the Pakistan Peoples Party won the plurality and the lead of the governing coalition.
The Senate of Pakistan (upper house) consists of 104 Senators elected to six-year terms, with half standing for election every three years. The Senate represents the federal system, much in the same way that the US Senate represents the US states. Each of the four main provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh) are represented by 23 seats. The tribal areas are represented by eight seats. The capital, Islamabad, is represented by four.
To increase the level of representation of the Senate, 12 seats are guaranteed to women (four in each province) and four are guaranteed to non-Muslims (one in each province).
This Senate Election
The 2012 Senate elections put the Pakistan Peoples Party in power. The PPP’s senior leader, Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, became the Chairman of the Senate on March 12, 2012. The March 5, 2015, Senate election seems to have reversed that success. As the polls were closing, the news source Dawn reported:
According to the ECP, 84 candidates will contest for 33 general seats from the provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the federal capital, 22 for eight seats reserved for women from the provinces and the federal capital and 18 for eight seats reserved for technocrats, including ulema. Eight candidates will contest for two seats reserved for minorities — one each from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The results are now official. Gulf News reports:
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won 18 out 48 Senate seats contested, according to complete unofficial results available yesterday.
In second place was the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which managed eight seats in polling held on Thursday.
If these results hold, then we can estimate the composition of the Pakistan Senate resulting from this election. Before this election, the Pakistan Peoples Party held 41 seats; 21 were contested in this election; eight were won. This constitutes a net loss of 13 and a total of 28 seats in the 2015-2018 Senate. For the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, they held 14 seats before this election, had eight of those contested, and won 18. This is a net gain of 10 seats and a total of 24 seats in the 2015-2018 Senate.
The PPP still holds the plurality of seats in the Senate. But, their margin has decreased dramatically. As the National Assembly and the Presidency are both controlled by the PML(N), it may be good that the opposition party holds one of the wings of the government.
Checks and balances can come in handy at times.