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Senate Elections to be Held Through Secret Ballot, Says Supreme Court

by Newsweek Pakistan

Farooq Naeem—AFP

Top court directs ECP to protect election from corruption, adding Parliament can pass constitutional amendments for open balloting

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday issued its legal opinion on a presidential reference seeking open-ballot in Senate elections, stressing that polls for the Upper House of Parliament will be held through secret balloting in accordance with Article 226 of the Constitution.

In a 4-1 majority opinion, the five-member larger bench of the apex court verified that the Senate elections are conducted in accordance with the law and Constitution. Led by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justices Mushir Alam, Umar Ata Bandial, and Ijazul Ahsan backed the majority opinion; Justice Yahya Afridi offered the sole dissenting note.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), read the judgment, was responsible for protecting the election from corruption. It said Parliament could pass constitutional amendments, adding that all institutions were bound to follow the directions of the ECP. However, the court stressed, the secrecy of ballots was “not final.” It said that the ECP could “use the latest technology to ensure the holding of transparent elections” under powers granted to it by Article 218 of the Constitution.

Presidential reference

The top court’s ruling came on a presidential reference filed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government in which a legal opinion had been sought on whether the condition of holding a secret ballot, as detailed in Article 226 of the Constitution, was applicable only for elections held under the Constitution—polls for the office of president, speakers and deputy speakers of Parliament and provincial assemblies—and “not to other elections, such as the election for the members of Senate” held under the Elections Act 2017.

The government had argued that the nature of the Senate elections, and the method under which they should be conducted, had not been clearly defined in the Constitution.

Reactions

In a press conference after the order was issued, PTI Senator Faisal Javed claimed it was a “victory for Pakistan.” Thanking the court for listening to everyone’s opinions, he stressed that the court had found that secrecy was “not absolute” and that “technology” could be used to determine potential rigging. He also claimed that the court had instructed the ECP to ensure proportional representation in the Senate.

Separately, Information Minister Shibli Faraz claimed that the primary reason for the presidential reference had been to find out what practical steps could be taken to end corruption in Senate polls.

Marriyum Aurangzeb, spokesperson of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), meanwhile told media that the court’s ruling had confirmed that the upcoming Senate polls would be held according to Article 226 of the Constitution. She said the party would offer further opinions after it had read the detailed order of the top court.

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