Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani speaks to reporters outside the Parliament in Islamabad, March 12, 2018.
Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani speaks to reporters outside the Parliament in Islamabad, March 12, 2018.

ISLAMABAD - The chairman of Pakistan's Senate has survived a no-confidence vote that has opponents alleging political interference.

At the start of the proceedings Thursday in Islamabad, opposition lawmakers seeking Sadiq Sanjrani's removal from office had 64 votes in their favor. In a secret ballot a short time later, however, only 50 senators voted to oust him — just short of the 53 needed. Five votes were rejected.

100 senators vote

Pakistan's Senate comprises 103 members. Of that number, 100 voted. The opposition sought the vote to put pressure on the government. All legislation, except the budget, has to be passed by both houses of parliament. The chairman can play a major role in which legislation is put forward. 

Leading English-language newspaper DAWN called the outcome a "shock victory." Opposition leaders accused the government of "horse-trading," using a term that means buying votes, or influence-peddling, in Pakistan.

Rejecting the allegations, Senator Faisal Javed of the Pakistan Justice Movement (the ruling PTI), described the outcome as an end to the dynastic politics of the two leading opposition parties — the Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PMLN. Both parties are led by relatives of their founding members.  

"Senators ... voted according to their conscience ... sending a message that senators won't behave like slaves any longer," Javed said.  

Senators defy own parties

Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the senators who voted against their own parties "rejected their leadership's corruption."

Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house of parliament, blamed the outcome on money changing hands.

"Those who sold their souls and weakened democracy today, we have decided we will identify them and expose them," he said in a joint press conference with multiple opposition parties. 

Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari , center, joins hands with other opposition parties leaders during a protest in Karachi on July 25, 2019.

The chairman of the opposition PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, echoed similar sentiments, criticizing the vote as an "open attack on a symbol of federation—the Senate.  Zardari, the son of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, pledged to identify the 14 senators who, in his words, "put a dagger in their party's back." 

The opposition contends the five votes that were rejected were deliberately cast in a faulty manner.  

Meanwhile, Hasil Bizenjo, the opposition candidate for Senate chairman, blamed his loss on Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

"This is a game played by ISI. If today we have lost, we have lost because of ISI," he said.  

No comment from military

Pakistan's military is often accused of interfering in politics, mostly through the ISI. VOA reached out to the military's media wing but received no response.

Several members of the ruling PTI rejected the idea that anyone interfered in Thursday's process.