March 5, 2015 / 7:54 AM / 3 years ago

Pakistan's ruling party gaining in upper house election

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani lawmakers voted for new senators in parliament’s upper house on Thursday in an election that looked set to strengthen Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grip on power and increase his ability to pass important legislation.

The main opposition party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), currently holds a majority in the Senate.

But early, unofficial results indicate that after Thursday’s vote, Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League is expected to win almost equal representation in the upper house.

Under the constitution, a bill cannot become law unless it is passed by both upper and lower houses of parliament.

Sharif, whose party holds a majority in the lower house of parliament, has his hands full with problems ranging from chronic power shortages, a near-failed economy, a Taliban insurgency and building relations with the United States and arch-rival India.

Toppled in a 1999 coup, jailed and later exiled, Sharif made a triumphant election comeback in May 2013, becoming prime minister for a third time and winning enough seats so he did not need to form a coalition with other major parties to push through badly needed reforms.

There are 132 candidates in the running for 48 Senate seats on Thursday.

Members of both houses of parliament vote and official results were due Friday after voting times were extended in Pakistan’s northwest. Unofficial results on Thursday night indicated gains for the prime minister’s party.

The newly elected senators will take oath and elect a chairman on March 12.

Writing By Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Robert Birsel and Catherine Evans

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