Pakistan Counts Votes in Senate Election Testing Sharif Strength

Pakistan began counting votes in Senate elections, the first test at the polls for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a six-month period that witnessed street protests, a child massacre and a push to wipe out Taliban militants.

Official results in the contests for 48 of 104 seats in the upper house will be known over the next several days. Sharif runs a coalition government that holds 59 percent of the lower house.

In the Senate, his PML (N) party held 16 seats going into the elections. State-run Pakistan Television reported late Thursday the prime minister’s party had won 16 seats, some of which were new and some of which were retained positions.

A victory would strengthen his hand as he pushes to revive an economy hobbled by power shortages and an insurgency that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001. The Senate, controlled by opposition parties, remains an obstacle to Sharif’s economic agenda.

“If he has a majority in the Senate or he has bargaining capacity in the Senate, then definitely it will be easier for him to legislate on many issues,” said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, director of the School of Politics and International Relations at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University

Sharif has had a rocky six months. In August, opposition leader and former cricket star Imran Khan took to the streets demanding that the prime minister resign over accusations that he rigged the election in 2013.

Though Sharif has stayed in office, the demonstrations forced him to surrender decision-making power on security and foreign affairs issues to the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its 67-year existence.

Khan ended his protest in December after Taliban militants massacred more than 150 people at a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, including 134 students. Sharif then intensified his administration’s fight against militants based near the Afghan border that are using violence to try to impose their version of Islamic law in Pakistan.

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