Pakistan Supreme Court confirms secret balloting in Senate polls

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Supreme Court Verdict perceived as a setback to the Pakistan government, which had attempted to change the process for elections scheduled this week.

Islamabad, Pakistan – The Supreme Court in Pakistan has given the verdict that elections to the country’s upper house of parliament, due this week, is required to be held under a secret ballot, completely cancelling a government move to require they be held through the open ballot.

The Supreme Court’s judgment declared in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Monday, said the country’s constitution was apparent that a secret ballot was needed for all elections, and the election commission was empowered to take steps to ensure there was no corruption in the process.

The verdict is being seen as a setback to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which had strived to change the process for the Senate elections first through a failed constitutional amendment and then through a presidential mandate this year.

The court, nevertheless, ruled that the secrecy of the poll “is not absolute”.

“[The] Election Commission is required to take all available measures including utilising technologies to fulfil the solemn constitutional duty to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against,’” said the verdict.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had observed that the court will give its opinion by interpreting the provisions of the Constitution.

“We have nothing to do with politics but are going to interpret the Constitution,” the CJP had remarked.

Talking to media after the SC order, Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz urged the Election Commission to make arrangements to ensure transparency in light of the directions given by the court.

The federal minister said the SC’s judgment in the Presidential reference is historic and under it, the Senate elections will be held as per Article 226 of the constitution.

He said the court has also ruled that the secrecy of the ballot is not permanent.

The information minister asked the ECP to take requisite steps for ensuring transparency in the Senate elections in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

PML-N Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said they were of the opinion that the Senate polls should be held according to the constitutional provisions and any change in this process should be brought through the Parliament.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that the Senate polls in 2021 would be held according to Article 226 of the Constitution,” she said.

The PML-N spokesperson said it is to be seen in the detailed order about the ECP’s role regarding transparency.

She said that the PML-N has been the victim of horse-trading and vote-theft in the past and the party wanted that the polls should be held transparently.

Pakistan’s Senate carries 96 members who serve six-year terms after being elected by members of the country’s provincial and national assemblies. The election of 48 senators is due to take place on Wednesday.

Horse Trading: An Immoral Practice

Previous elections to the Senate have been damaged by allegations of horse-trading, with legislators’ votes regularly violating their party’s orders.

Khan’s PTI party has long contested that legislators’ votes are bought and sold prior to the Senate polls to engineer results.

In 2018, the PTI dismissed 20 members it said had violated party voting lines and engaged in corrupt practices in the Senate polls held in March that year.

Earlier this year, the government was incapable of gaining sufficient support in Parliament to pass a constitutional amendment that would alter the process of voting in the Senate polls.

It then passed a presidential ordinance, which is a temporary measure, to require that voting be held under open balloting rules. The government also approached the Supreme Court, seeking its ruling on the issue. Monday’s verdict was in response to that reference.

Having swept to power in a general election in 2018, the PTI stands to make the largest gains in the Senate if all national and provincial legislators vote along party lines.

The opposition, including the Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz faction (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been defending the need for a secret ballot in the run-up to the polls.