ISLAMABAD (AP) — 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 others had bribed their way to becoming lawmakers.
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.
Members of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, are elected in a nationwide vote.
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.
Later Monday, a candidate backed by two opposition parties won an upset victory against the ruling party’s choice to become the leader of the Senate. Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani won 57 votes with backing from the parties led by former cricket star Imran Khan and former President Asif Ali Zardari, defeating the ruling Pakistan Muslim League’s candidate, who won 46.
The same alliance also backed the winning candidate for deputy chairman, Salim Mandviwala, who won 54 votes to the ruling party candidate’s 44.
Pakistan’s elections overseeing body meanwhile opened a probe into 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.
Associated Press correspondent Zarar Khan contributed to this report.