Major upset as opposition’s Gillani beats finance minister Shaikh for hotly contested senate seat

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani attends a ceremony at The Prime Minister House in Islamabad on February 11, 2012. (AFP)
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Updated 03 March 2021

Major upset as opposition’s Gillani beats finance minister Shaikh for hotly contested senate seat

  • Voting ended on Wednesday evening in election for 37 seats in the upper house of parliament
  • Government and opposition alliance battled to get their candidates elected to win a majority in National Assembly

ISLAMABAD: In a major blow to the government, the joint opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gillani won the general seat from Islamabad, beating the government’s candidate, finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, in a hotly contested election for 37 seats in the upper house of parliament, local media reported. 

Election commission officials started counting the votes after 5pm – the official deadline to close the polls – in the National Assembly and all three provincial assemblies including Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Eleven senators from Punjab have already been declared unopposed winners. 

The ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and an opposition alliance, waged a tough competition to get their candidates Shaikh and Gillani elected respectively, to win a majority in the National Assembly. Pakistani media channels reported on Wednesday evening that Gillani, who is a former prime minister of Pakistan and belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party, had won against Shaikh, in what is being seen as a major upset for the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

The 342-member lower house of the parliament is the electoral college for the two Islamabad seats where it currently has 341 members, with one vacant seat.

“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. 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 9am this 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 upcoming 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 on December 23, 2020 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 an 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), have opposed the government’s move to try to hold senate elections through an open ballot, and one of the major parties in the alliance, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Election Amendment Ordinance 2021. 

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 former prime minister Gillani, the joint opposition’s most prominent candidate for the polls, 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.” 


Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

  • Says Islamabad never evaded talks but India would have to revert disputed Kashmir region’s special autonomy
  • Tells reporters about his three-day visit: “My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan”

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday Pakistan had never evaded peace talks and wanted to live in peace with all its neighbors, including India, but New Delhi would have to reverse an August 5, 2019 move to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special autonomy.
Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.
India in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and took direct control over it, sparking unrest. Pakistan has since maintained it is open to talks if New Delhi reverses the August 2019 decision.
The FM’s remarks, reported by Pakistani media, came as he spoke at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates where Qureshi is on three-day official visit.
“Both India and Pakistan will have to think about their bilateral ties,” the foreign minister said. “Pakistan is ready to talk with India if it takes back its steps of August 5. Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue.”
Qureshi added that Pakistan desired peace in the region because peace would create more economic opportunities.
On Sunday Qureshi ruled out any ‘secret meetings’ between Pakistan and India during his UAE visit.
The announcement that Qureshi’s Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar would also be in the UAE at the same time as the Pakistani foreign minister triggered speculation about a possible meeting. Both leaders’ arrival in the UAE comes just days after the Emirati envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state had been mediating between the nuclear-armed rivals to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. 
“There have been a number of speculations about secret meetings between me and the external affairs minister of India, S. Jaishankar but neither was our meeting planned and nor are we meeting,” Qureshi told reporters.
“I am here for a bilateral visit and not an India-specific agenda. My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan.”
“I don’t think a meeting is set out with the Indian foreign minister,” Qureshi added.

Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2021

Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

  • Over 4,500 patients are now in critical care, 30% higher than June last year
  • Planning minister says citizens making a “huge mistake” by not following coronavirus health guidelines

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads a federal body overseeing the country’s pandemic response, said Pakistani hospitals were filing up fast as coronavirus cases rose and oxygen supplies were “under stress.”
Pakistan on Monday recorded 5,152 new infections and 73 coronavirus-related deaths, government data showed, as a third wave of the coronavirus sweeps the country. The South Asian nation of 220 million has recorded 761,437 infections and 16,316 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year.
According to official data, 4,515 coronavirus patients are currently in critical condition.
“Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4500, which is 30% higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress,” Umar said on Twitter, adding that compliance of coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) remained low. “We are making a huge mistake by not following sops.”

On Sunday, Hong Kong announced it would suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time. The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The British government has also banned international arrivals from Pakistan amid concerns over new virus variants.

Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

  • Eleven people died and 98 were injured after four carriages of the train derailed in a province north of Cairo 
  • Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday extended its condolences to Egypt, a day after 11 people were killed and 98 injured in a train accident in the Qalioubia province, 40km north of the capital, Cairo.
“We convey our deepest sympathies on the tragic train accident in Egypt,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a Tweet on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the government, the brotherly people of Egypt and the families of those who have lost their lives. We wish quick recovery to the injured,” it added.

The accident took place after four carriages of the train, which was heading from Cairo to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, derailed in Toukh on Sunday. 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered the military’s engineering authority to investigate the crash, with the driver and rail officials detained for questioning.
Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province of the country, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200, including children.
Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with Egypt, with both countries working toward strengthening their relationship in recent months.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held talks with President El-Sisi during a two-day visit to Egypt in February this year, where he acknowledged that Egypt was an “important member” of the Muslim world, before describing it as the “gateway to Africa.”

Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

Updated 19 April 2021

Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

  • Three countries classified as "extremely high risk" after multiple imported cases of coronavirus into Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time, authorities said in a statement late on Sunday.
The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The city reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, 29 of which were imported, marking the highest daily toll since March 15. Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths.
Hong Kong authorities have been urging residents to get vaccinated for coronavirus with only around 9% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents vaccinated so far.
The government last week widened the city’s vaccine scheme to include those aged between 16 to 29 years old for the first time, as they aim to boost lacklustre demand for inoculations among residents.
Airlines impacted by Hong Kong’s ban on travelers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines include carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Vistara and Cebu Pacific. 

Pakistan to hold third round of talks with banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik party tonight

Updated 4 sec ago

Pakistan to hold third round of talks with banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik party tonight

  • TLP team allowed to meet arrested leader today after 11 policemen being held hostage released
  • PM says “great misfortune” political and religious parties “use Islam wrongly ... doing damage to their own country”

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri said on Monday the government would hold a third round of negotiations with a banned religious political party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, (TLP) tonight to end week-long protests being held across Pakistan by the group's followers.

Rioting by the rightwing group has rocked the country since last Monday when TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year. 

The protests have paralyzed major cities and highways, leading to the deaths of six policemen, according to the government, with thousands of TLP workers under arrest, police say. On Sunday, TLP also took a number of police officers and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 policemen in the early hours of Monday after a first round of negotiations with the government. The TLP says dozens of its supporters have also been killed but hospital and government officials have not verified this information.

The riots have also prompted the French embassy last week to recommend all its nationals temporarily leave the country.

“We believe in negotiations and it’s our policy,” Qadri said in a policy statement in the National Assembly. “We held negotiations [with the protesters] yesterday, in the morning and the third session will be held tonight after the Tarawih prayer.”

The minister assured parliament the deadlock with protesters would be resolved through negotiations as per the aspirations of the nation. 

“No political, democratic and elected government can afford such things and whatever happened in the past few days is regrettable to everyone,” he said. 

Meanwhile, a nine-member TLP delegation will meet the party’s chief Rizvi in jail today, Monday, a spokesperson for the group said. 

“A nine member delegation of the religious scholars will go to Kot lakhpat jail to meet the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan chief Saad Hussain Rizvi,” TLP spokesperson Pir Ejaz Ashrafi, told Arab News.  

TLP chief Rizvi has called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment it made in February to his party to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet (pbuh). 

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan says it had only committed to debating the matter in Parliament. 

In a veiled reference to TLP on Monday, Khan said: “ln our country, it is a great misfortune that many times our political parties and religious parties use Islam wrongly and use it such that they do damage to their own country.” 

Addressing the groundbreaking ceremony for the Margalla Highway in Islamabad, the PM said hurting people, properties and infrastructure would only hurt our own people and “will not have any impact on them [blasphemers].” 

He said he had launched a global campaign against Islamophobia and blasphemy, and would continue the effort: “At some point, people in the West will fear before insulting the honor of our Prophet (pbuh).” 

On Sunday evening, Information Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry had said the government was forced to launch an army operation against protesters after they kidnapped law enforcement officials.

“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said. “The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped ... [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the Prophet (PBUH) and he has talked about this at every forum.” 

Earlier on Sunday, a police spokesman, Arif Rana, said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol. 

By Sunday evening, he said the situation was “at a standstill” with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement personnel standing guard. 

Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the party to be officially dissolved. 

In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils during a civics lesson. 

During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including that it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament. 

A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20. 

Rizvi became the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. 

Rizvi’s party wants the government to boycott French products and expel the French ambassador under an agreement signed by the government with Rizvi’s party in February. 

Tehreek-e-Labiak and other religious parties denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as freedom of expression. Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in class. 

The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe those depictions are blasphemous. 

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. 

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form.