Pakistan swore in newly elected members of the Senate on Monday, including for the first time a woman from the country’s marginalized Hindu minority, as allegations swirled that some senators had bribed their way to become lawmakers.
But the scandals cast no shadow on a smiling Krishna Kumari, who hails from the so-called untouchables - the lowest in the caste system still prevailing in Pakistan and India. Kumari was elected from the southern Sindh province in a vote that also saw a Taliban-linked cleric defeated in the northwest despite backing by moderate parties.
Kumari was warmly welcomed by the chamber’s predominantly Muslims lawmakers as she entered the Senate for the first time Monday, making history.
Kumari, from a remote village in southern Sindh province, was among half of the lawmakers in the 104-member upper house of parliament elected to six-year terms in the March 3 vote by national and provincial assemblies, replacing those who had completed their terms. The other 52 lawmakers were elected in 2015.
Out of the 52 newly elected, 51 were sworn in on Monday while one lawmaker, Ishaq Dar, was out of the country. Dar was finance minister under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was disqualified by the Supreme Court last July for concealing financial assets.
The new senate chairman
Under Pakistan’s two-chamber system, the Senate is separate from the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, where members are elected in a nationwide vote. The Senate is the law-making chamber and no constitutional bill can become a law if the upper house rejects it.
Later Monday, the Senate was to elect a chairman to replace outgoing Mian Raza Rabbani.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League party has nominated veteran politician Raja Zafarul Haq but the top opposition leader, legendary cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, and his political foe former President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday threw their support behind independent Sen. Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani for the post.
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said she was confident the ruling party’s candidate will win and become the Senate chairman, and that the Khan-Zardari scheme will not succeed.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s elections overseeing body opened a probe into the allegations that political parties had paid lawmakers from rival parties to vote for their candidates. The commission is expected to announce its findings on Wednesday.