ISLAMABAD: After losing the most contested seat in senate elections on Wednesday, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to seek a vote of confidence from parliament.
Election commission officials started counting the votes after 5 p.m. — the official deadline to close the polls — in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Eleven senators from Punjab have already been declared unopposed winners.
In a major blow to the government, joint opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gillani won the general seat from Islamabad, beating the government’s candidate, finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, in the hotly contested election for 37 seats in the upper house of parliament.
The government and an opposition alliance had both waged a tough competition to get their candidates Shaikh and Gilani elected respectively, to win a majority in the National Assembly.
"PM Khan will take a vote of confidence from Parliament," the ruling party said in a tweet, quoting Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The announcement came after Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged Khan to accept defeat and resign as the opposition would seek a motion of no confidence against him.
"We will choose our timing when to use the option of no-confidence against the prime minister," Bilawal said while addressing a press conference along with Gilani after the announcement of results by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Gilani won from Islamabad by securing 169 votes against Shaikh's 164, while a PTI woman candidate Fozia Arshad defeated the opposition candidate by bagging 174 votes out of 340 polled votes in the National Assembly.
The opposition alliance of 11 major opposition parties has been holding mammoth rallies since its inception last September to seek Khan's ouster.
"He should morally resign now, but we know he neither did it before nor will do it now," Bilawal said. "We will now get Yousuf Raza Gilani elected as Chairman Senate."
Speaking on the occasion, Gilani said that the credit for his victory goes to "all the democratic forces" in the country.
"It's a victory of democracy and it’s a victory of the parliament," he said.
Reacting to the Gilani’s victory, Information and Broadcasting Minister Shibli Faraz accused the opposition of winning the seat through money politics.
"The opposition should feel ashamed for talking about the no-confidence motion," Faraz said, adding that Khan would not succumb to any pressure as people who believed in democracy were firmly standing behind him.
Analysts see Gilani's win as was tantamount to a major upset for Khan's government which now has a thin majority in the National Assembly.
"It’s a serious loss for the government of Imran Khan which has lost its majority in the house," Mohammad Malick, senior political journalist and TV anchor, told Arab News.
“Today, the government has to worry about two things: a resurgent opposition and an ostensibly neutral establishment,” he said.
“Unless Khan regroups, makes big changes in Punjab and center, he might end up with a perpetually neutral establishment and an emboldened opposition — a combination which could prove fatal for his government.”
Voting started at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning for an election that has been marred by accusations of corrupt practices and a controversy over the method of voting.
In Pakistan, a senator serves a term of six years, barring resignation, disqualification, or other extraordinary circumstances. Half of the senators are elected at one time, and the other half three years later.
This year, 52 senators elected in 2015 are set to retire; the other 52 will retire in 2024. However, elections are being held only for 48 seats after Pakistan’s northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2018. The senate thus now comprises 100 lawmakers: 23 each from all the provinces and four from Islamabad. The remaining four senators from FATA will retire in 2024.
The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled this Monday that senate elections would continue to be held through a secret ballot as per the constitution but directed the election commission to use technology to check against corrupt practices in the polls.
The court’s 4:1 verdict came in response to a presidential reference filed in December, seeking the court’s opinion on whether voting in senate elections could be held through an open ballot.
The government of PM Khan has argued that open balloting would introduce transparency into a voting process that has long been plagued by irregularities, with national and provincial lawmakers accused of selling their votes.
Leaders of the opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), have opposed the government’s move to try to hold senate elections through an open ballot.
On Tuesday, the election commission said senate elections this year would be held as "per past practices," saying it was setting up a monitoring mechanism to identify corrupt practices in the elections.
On Tuesday night, a video surfaced showing the son of Gillani explaining to lawmakers how they can waste their vote during the election. The government has since demanded the election commission declare Gillani ineligible and has filed a reference with the commission seeking his disqualification for being involved in “corrupt practices.”