Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s main opposition party has condemned a decision by election authorities to delay a vote for seats in the upper house of parliament from a province the party holds, calling it a continuation of “mandate theft” conducted since February’s general election.

The elections to fill half of the Senate’s 96 seats are held every three years in Pakistan. The members, who have six-year terms, are elected by legislators in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and in the four provincial assemblies. The seats in the Senate are determined by the numbers held by different parties in the national and provincial assemblies.

On Tuesday, a vote to elect 30 senators was held, days after 18 senators were elected unopposed from the Punjab and Balochistan assemblies.

But the election for 11 seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly was delayed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which said some members nominated by the ECP to fill reserved seats in the provincial assembly were not administered oaths of office.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, which governs the province, has challenged the ECP decision to allocate reserved seats to opposition parties and has refused to administer the oaths to the new members.

In a statement on Tuesday, the PTI said the Election Commission’s latest decision amounted to “poll robbery”.

“The ECP decision to postpone the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is merely a continuation of the same conspiracy under which the people’s mandate was stolen after recent general elections,” the statement said, adding that the delay was a “conspiracy” to tamper with the numbers in the upper house.

Ali Amin Gandapur, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says the ECP is violating the constitution by postponing the Senate vote in the province [Sohail Shahzad/EPA]

After Tuesday’s vote for the Senate, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the second largest partner in the national coalition government, now has the largest share of seats in the Senate at 24 while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has 19. A total of 64 seats is required to hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The PTI, which already has 20 members in the Senate, could have won at least 10 more seats due to its strength in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly if polls had taken place, thereby becoming the single largest party in the upper house.

Ali Amin Gandapur, the province’s chief minister and a member of the PTI, accused the ECP of violating the constitution by postponing the Senate election in the province.

“The ECP has illegally denied giving our alliance the [reserved] seats we deserved and instead handed those to opposition parties,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The ECP denies the allegation and says it is only following the electoral laws.

The PTI has been alleging election fraud since the February 8 national elections, held after a months-long crackdown on the opposition party, which began with Khan losing power in April 2022.

The former prime minister alleged he was removed due to a conspiracy hatched by his opponents and held nationwide rallies to demand immediate elections. The government swooped down on PTI protests, arresting Khan and dozens of other PTI leaders. In August, Khan was jailed on several charges, and his party was stripped of its election symbol – a cricket bat.

The loss of the election symbol forced PTI candidates to contest the February elections as independents. While PTI-backed politicians emerged as the largest group in parliament, no party gained a clear majority and a coalition opposed to the PTI formed the government.

The party announced that PTI-backed candidates would join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a right-wing religious party, to receive their share of reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies.

Despite being a registered political party, the SIC had chosen not to contest the polls and did not submit any list of reserved candidates, a necessary requirement, which was the reason cited by the ECP for depriving it of reserved seats in a controversial decision last month.

Akram Khurram, a constitutional expert, said the decision by the ECP to postpone polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seems “political in nature”.

“When Peshawar High Court ordered the provincial assembly to administer the oath, it never said anything about delaying the Senate election if the oath-taking did not take place. I don’t think there was any reason for ECP to postpone the polls,” he told Al Jazeera.

Islamabad-based Khurram told Al Jazeera if the polls had taken place in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly without the reserved members, the PTI could have won 10 out of 11 seats.

“The objective of the ruling alliance was to gain a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which they will now have regardless of whenever Senate polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa take place,” he said.

Lahore-based political commentator Majid Nizami said it is highly unusual for Pakistan’s upper house to not have its full strength.

“The house remained suspended during martial law, but it was never incomplete, and due to this stance by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to not allow oath-taking of reserved seat candidates, the ECP decided to postpone the polls. This is quite remarkable and alarming,” he told Al Jazeera.


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