ACCORDING to media reports, the Federal Cabinet on Friday approved a government move to promulgate a presidential ordinance to make an amendment to the Election Act, 2017, to hold Senate polls through open vote. A summary prepared by the office of the Attorney-General was reportedly approved by the members of the cabinet through circulation and the ordinance is expected to be promulgated during the next few days.
The fresh move is yet another indication that the Government was desperate to change the balloting system for the upcoming Senate elections. It is also a reflection of the fact that the government was clueless as to what exactly to do to realize the objective of holding Senate polls through open ballot. Ever since, the Government announced its intention to introduce changes in the system, it has resorted to different tactics for the purpose but none of them has so far borne fruit. It has filed a presidential reference in the Supreme Court seeking the opinion of the top court whether open ballot can be introduced without amending the Constitution – merely through amendment of the law. It also made an attempt to get a constitutional amendment passed from Parliament but the initiative was aborted by the protesting opposition. Promulgation of an ordinance would be a strange and highly controversial move as the Constitution cannot be amended through presidential ordinance.
Though the Supreme Court has yet to give its opinion but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is the most relevant body on the subject, has concluded that open ballot was not possible sans a constitutional amendment. This viewpoint was indirectly acknowledged by the Government as well by introducing constitutional amendment in Parliament. The ordinance might have been prepared on the presumption that open ballot can be introduced by amending the relevant law but such a controversial move could make the entire election process controversial, therefore, needs to be avoided.