Pakistan’s ruling party has gained control of parliament’s upper house in a secret ballot, local media said yesterday, in a boost for the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party ahead of a general election due in summer.
The result may revive the political fortunes of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has clashed with the judiciary since the Supreme Court ended his premiership in July by disqualifying him from office over undeclared assets.
“PML-N now the single largest party in Senate as well, Masha’Allah,” tweeted Sharif’s daughter and presumed heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.
Candidates backed by the PML-N won 15 of the 52 seats up for grabs, overtaking Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as the biggest group in the upper house, according to Geo TV channel and other media.
Candidates from the PPP won 12 seats.
Working with allied parties in the senate, the PML-N should have de facto control of the 104-seat chamber.
Lawmakers from the four provincial assemblies and the federal parliament voted in secret on the new senators, who are due to serve six-year terms.
The Senate, or upper house of parliament, comprises 104 members, and half of them retire every three years.
Unlike the last Senate elections in 2015, lawmakers were not even allowed to take their cellphones into the assemblies during the vote.
Winning control of the Senate could enable the PML-N to change the constitution to make Sharif eligible to hold office again when the party contests a national election due later this year.
The PML-N has not spoken about amending the constitution, but it has been on a collision course with the judiciary since the Supreme Court ousted Sharif from power.
Last month the top court again disqualified Sharif by removing him as head of the PML-N, the political party he founded.
Sharif has been deeply critical of the judiciary, accusing it of a conspiracy to hurt his party and Pakistan’s civilian leaders.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who won a seat in capital Islamabad, told media that the senate victory vindicates Sharif’s political “narrative” with voters.
The official results will not immediately show how well the PML-N has done because a number of candidates were barred from running under the party’s banner after Sharif was removed from office.
Those candidates, who will be running as “independents”, are expected to pledge their allegiance to the PML-N if they are elected to the senate, PML-N party officials say.
Questions were raised about the secret ballot by some independent candidates and opposition leaders, who alleged that some of the lawmakers had sold their votes, though they did not share any evidence of it.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan, a former cricketing star who is one of the front-runners to become prime minister in general elections scheduled this year after Sharif’s disqualification, did not cast his vote.
“We will change the process of indirect election of senators through secret votes after coming to power,” Khan said in a statement.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is expected to formally announce the results by tomorrow.
Under Pakistan’s constitution a bill cannot become law unless it is passed by both upper and lower houses of parliament.
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