Supreme Court gives opinion on presidential reference
The Supreme Court in its advice on the presidential reference on holding an open ballot for the upcoming Senate elections has said that the voting process can remain secret but the votes should be traceable.
A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, announced its opinion on the matter on Monday. Justice Yahya Afridi has written a dissenting note.
The Senate elections are held under the Constitution and law, the court said in its opinion.
On the secrecy of the ballot, the court quoted an older judgement from the Niaz Ahmad vs Azizuddin and others (PLD 1967 SC 466), where it was ruled that the secrecy is not absolute.
The secrecy of the ballot, therefore, has not to be implemented in the ideal or absolute sense but to be tempered by practical considerations necessitated by the processes of the election, read the judgement in the case.
The court has instructed the Election Commission to ensure that the elections are conducted “honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”. The commission must “take all available measures including utilising technologies to fulfil the solemn constitutional duty,” the judgement added.
The court has instructed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold fair and free elections. The commission should use technology and other means to ensure their transparency.
This advice cannot be challenged in any court.
The reference was filed on December 23, 2020. The top court concluded its proceedings on February 25 and reserved its verdict.
During the case hearing, the top judge remarked that Parliament should decide if the balloting should be open or closed.
People didn’t know what was happening during the Senate elections before, remarked PTI Senator Faisal Javed while speaking to the media outside the court.
“People are finding out for the first time about the historic horse-trading that took place during these elections,” he remarked. “Millions were spent to purchase the votes of MPAs and Imran Khan wanted to end this corruption.” This is why 20 MPAs were expelled from our party because they sold their votes and it is unacceptable.
“We thank the court for listening to everyone and giving such a fantastic verdict,” Javed added.
Information Minister Shibli Faraz remarked that the opposition is bent on maintaining the status quo. “We, however, want to bring newer and better ways to run the country.”
Every person whose talented, honest and hardworking is a defacto member of the PTI, he said. “We are hopeful that Hafeez Sheikh will win because people don’t vote for the candidates but Imran Khan and his vision.”
The Senate has 104 senators at this moment in time. The election is being held because the terms in office of 52 or almost half of Pakistan’s senators are coming to an end in March. This includes the deputy chairman of the Senate, Senator Saleem Mandviwalla of the PPP. Mandviwalla’s three years as a senator are up.
The voting for the elections will start on March 3.
Each provincial assembly gets to elect 23 senators each because the Senate has to have an equal number of people from each province. This means their MPAs vote.
The National Assembly MNAs get to vote on two senators from the federal capital, Islamabad to be sent to the Senate.
Senate seats are reserved for women, minorities, and technocrats. The rest are called general seats.
In February, President Arif Alvi signed the Elections Ordinance 2021 which paved the way for open balloting in the Senate. This is a vote by a show of hands as opposed to people voting secretly. (The president may have signed the ordinance (or law) but it can only be used if the Supreme Court says so.)
The government wanted this Elections Ordinance 2021 because it says it wants to stop horse-trading. The Opposition says that the government is scared that its senators will vote for the opposition’s candidates which is why it wants to introduce open balloting.
The president had, however, said that the fate of the ordinance will depend on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the presidential reference on open balloting.