A highly incriminating video surfaced on Wednesday featuring six former members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly allegedly receiving sacks of money as price of their votes in the Senate elections held in 2018. The lawmakers also included the incumbent provincial law minister Sultan Mohammad Khan who had been elected to the provincial assembly on a Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) ticket. Later, he joined the PTI. In the July 2018 general elections, he was elected on the PTI’s ticket and made provincial minister for law, parliamentary affairs and human rights, a portfolio he held until he had no other choice but to resign.
The video shows an unidentified person bringing in an empty bag and placing it in front of an MPA, the then youngest in the provincial assembly elected from Mardan on a PTI ticket. The MPA begins to stuff the bag with piles of currency notes. A woman MPA of QWP (who also later joined the PTI before the July 2018 elections) and two other PTI MPAs (a man and a woman) are also seen in the video. Before joining PTI, the male MPA was minister in the MMA government between 2002 and 2007.
Soon after this video, another short video also emerged showing a former PPP lawmaker from Malakand smoking as a pile of currency notes is stacked on a table near him. The MPA has since denied any role in the scandal, claiming that clips of two different functions were clubbed together to give the impression that he was present when the money was being distributed among other MPs.
That horse trading has been taking place in the Senate elections has never been in any doubt. Vast sums of money changing hands during elections for erstwhile FATA members have been too well known. But such incriminating evidence had never come to surface before.
The 2018 Senate election arguably was the most tainted in recent years. Then, an independent group in Balochistan with no political affiliation won Senate seats hands down. The failure of the no-trust vote against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani has also been attributed to alleged horse trading. As many as 64 Senators stood up to vote in favour of the motion to vote out Sanjrani. But when put to secret vote, 14 of them switched sides and voted against the motion they had endorsed an hour earlier.
All political parties have voiced concerns against horse trading in Senate elections. The Charter of Democracy signed between the PPP and the PML-N in 2006 has vowed to end it. Not long ago, the Senate Committee of the Whole representing all political parties and all provinces unanimously also made some far-reaching recommendations in this regard. Why didn’t the prime minister, who is making so much noise now, act on those recommendations? Is it because it was this kind of horse trading that was needed to defeat the no-trust vote against Chairman Sanjrani? Didn’t Imran Khan then not call these Senators as conscientious dissenters?
Unfortunately, rackets and mafias of all sorts have used money to change the political landscape of the country. Just last year the Sugar Inquiry Commission report revealed how sugar mafias have operated. If Imran Khan really wanted to end use of corrupt money in politics, he should have also acted on the Inquiry Commission report. Not only that, Imran Khan recently doled out development funds of Rs500 million to each of his members of Parliament just a few weeks before Senate elections. The prime minister has all along been denouncing development funds to parliamentarians as bribe. But come Senate elections and the autocrat dressed in pseudo-democratic garb starts giving endless lectures on democratic norms, transparency and morality. Nothing could be worse than this.
The video has raised questions
about Imran Khan’s culpability
in the scandal
Imran Khan seems utterly desperate. First, the government moved a constitutional amendment bill for open balloting. When rebuffed by the opposition, which asked for a holistic electoral reforms package in consultation with all parties, he dragged in the court by filing a Presidential reference in the Supreme Court. Before the SC rendered its opinion on the reference, he got the president to promulgate an unprecedented ordinance changing the Election Act 2017 instead of the Constitution to permit open balloting. Never before an ordinance had been issued on the basis of a self-serving presumption that the highest court will endorse the reference before it.
Clearly Imran’s motive now is neither morality in politics nor ending horse trading and corruption. It is something else. More likely it is the fear that his own legislators will not vote for the candidates that he has now decided to nominate without even inviting applications.
Be that as it may, it is for the first time that a video has surfaced that leaves no doubt about how money has been used in the Senate elections. If he had seen the video before, he must explain why he allowed Sultan in the provincial cabinet and did not proceed against the high profile PTI functionary at whose residence the video was allegedly made. It is all the more important as Imran now has claimed that he had not seen the video before.
The scandal may have taken the scalp of Mr. Sultan but that is not enough. A deeper, transparent and credible probe is needed. It should be in the interest of Imran Khan himself also because it has raised questions about his own culpability in the scandal. A forensic audit should make it possible to get to the bottom of this issue.
It is well known how every now and then a King’s Party has been propped up in the country’s chequered political history for political engineering. It is also well known how horse trading aided by selective accountability has been used for this purpose.
If, as he claims, Imran Khan had not seen it before, the video may have been made and released at this time by those manipulating the formation of King’s parties using huge monies. The recent surfacing of videos of the NAB chairman and a judge may also be seen as pointers of the use of such tools used in political manipulation.
Those who are caught in the video will have many tales to tell which can be corroborated also. A transparent probe in the video scandal may help in unravelling some secrets of how King’s parties have been formed in this country. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
The writer is a former senator