ISLAMABAD: The apparent differences being played up by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) over the nomination of the leader of the opposition in the Senate are inconsequential when compared to their unprecedented collaboration for a greater objective – election of the Senate chairman and his deputy – that they together achieved.
This marked their first-ever cooperation that has underscored a new political phenomenon and reality, which will be further witnessed in the upcoming general elections and after this grand exercise.
The Upper House opposition leader’s slot is prestigious but ceremonial and figurehead. It is important only symbolically and carries no significance and weight except for a few perks and privileges like a separate office, a skeleton secretarial staff and consultation for formation of certain committees as provided in the Rules of Procedure & Conduct of Business in the Senate.
In addition, he/she has the precedence over other opposition MPs to speak on the floor. He is also consulted by the chairman in certain matters to run the proceedings smoothly.
However, the same office in the National Assembly, whose powers have been spelt out in the Constitution contrary to the status of the opposition leader in the Senate that has been listed in the rules, is highly important particularly for the three substantial powers that the opposition leader enjoys. He has an equal say like that of the prime minister in the key appointments - the caretaker prime minister, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and four members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). All these selections have wide-ranging ramifications for political parties especially in general elections and by-polls.
The influential voice of the Leader of the Opposition, Syed Khursheed Shah in the instant case, got appointed a NAB chief of his choice who is engaged in an intense accountability of the Sharif brothers,PML-N leaders, bureaucrats, who had otherwise been working efficiently during their governments, and some others. While agreeing to Khursheed Shah’s recommendation, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ousted premier Nawaz Sharif had never thought that they would face such a hard time from the NAB. The choice of the CEC that was done a few months back has not created any dire consequences for the appointees because of the even-handedness of the CEC and ECP members, all retired high court judges, one from each province.
The next phase – selection of a caretaker prime minister - that is about to come is more crucial for all political parties, which will be contesting the upcoming general elections. In this appointment, the opposition leader will have the equal weight as that of the prime minister.
But the opposition leader in the Senate has no such luxury to relish in. Therefore, it will hardly matter if PPP nominee Sherry Rehman or someone from the PTI gets this slot. It will make no material difference.
The PPP and PTI are vociferously insisting on securing the office, pretending as if they are fighting for a big deal, which it isn’t. The apparent scramble is basically intended to shave off the widespread impression, equally deleterious for both partners, that they, after abusing each other for years, ultimately became the willing political bedfellows just and why forgetting their drummed up and deafening principles and declarations.
The defeat of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the election to the Senate chief and deputy chairman was very embarrassing for the mere fact that some of its and its allied parties’ senators reneged on ostensibly committed support to their candidates. But bigger than this rout was the bad name the PTI and PPP earned by joining forces in the wake of their time-tested bitter bouts in which they always swore to never break bread.
Rule 16 says after the election of the chairman and deputy chief and at any time thereafter the chairman will declare the opposition leader within fifteen days. He will inform the members about the date, time and place for submission of a name for the office under their signatures.
However, importantly an independent senator including a member from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), who has not given his option to join the opposition benches, will not be eligible to support any member for the position. The chairman will declare a senator as opposition leader having the support of majority of the members in opposition.
Being the largest party on the opposition benches, the PPP is eligible to bag the position of the opposition leader, who, according to the rules, means a senator, who enjoys the support of the majority of his colleagues, and is declared as such by the Senate chairman. It has 20 senators as against PTI’s 12 MPs.
According to the rule, if two or more members have equal support for the slot, the senator belonging to the party having largest numerical strength in the opposition will be declared by the chairman, as the opposition leader, who will lose the office as and when the majority will withdraw their support.