Former Pakistan PM wins Senate election in setback to gov’t

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A former Pakistani prime minister Wednesday defeated a ruling party candidate in Senate elections in a major setback to the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, election authorities and opposition parties said.

Yusuf Raza Gilani defeated the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party’s Hafeez Sheikh, an adviser to Khan who was named finance minister in December 2020, Gilani received 169 votes to Sheikh’s 164. Gilani’s success suggested some ruling party lawmakers revolted and didn’t vote for Sheikh for the key seat reserved for the capital Islamabad.

The ruling party quickly rejected opposition party demands that Khan resign. Foreign Minister Shah Mahood Qureshi said in a news conference that Khan will seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly to prove he still enjoys a majority in Parliament. He didn’t say exactly when the vote could take place.

Votes for Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s Parliament, are cast by members of the National Assembly, or the lower house, and four provincial assemblies.

After Gilani’s win was announced in the Parliament building, Sheikh — who had served as finance minister during Gilani’s tenure as prime minister in 2010 — congratulated Gilani. Gilani served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012 until he resigned after being disqualified by the Supreme Court in a contempt case.

Results for the Senate’s other seats were still coming in and Khan’s party was expected to improve its position.

Gilani’s victory came hours after Khan showed up in Parliament in person to cast his vote for Sheikh. Khan in the past several days had campaigned intensely for Sheikh to ensure he wins the election.

Senate elections have been seen as a test for Khan, who came to power in 2018 parliamentary elections. Khan had hoped to improve his standing in the 100-member Senate, where his party had only 15 seats entering the elections.

In Pakistan, Senate members are elected for six-year terms and as half the senators are due to retire after three years, elections are required to replace 48 Senators who had completed their terms. However, voting on Wednesday was being held only for 37 seats as other candidates had ran unopposed.

Members of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are elected in nationwide parliamentary elections, which last took place in 2018, when Khan’s party came to power.

Both chambers of parliament have legislative powers and any bill passed by the National Assembly must be approved by the Senate before it becomes a law. In turn, any legislation by the Senate goes to the National Assembly, where Khan has a simple majority.

Hours before the announcement of results of the Senate elections, Fawad Chaudhry, minister for science and technology, had predicted an easy win for finance minister Sheikh against the opposition’s Gilani.

After Gilani’s victory was announced, almost all of the country’s opposition parties hailed it and urged Khan to resign.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who heads the country’s Pakistan People’s Party, took to Twitter, saying “democracy is the best revenge.”

Muhammad Zubair, a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League party, also congratulated Gilani, saying his success was the first key step for the ouster of Khan’s government.

Pakistan’s joint opposition plans to hold a major rally against Khan’s government later this month.