Local governments: Court asked to annul amendments allowing open division polls

‘The constitution requires that election be held through secret ballot’


Our Correspondent January 25, 2016
PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE: Opposition parties have requested the Lahore High Court to set aside latest amendments in the Punjab Local Government Ordinance of 2013 (amended) under which election of chairmen and vice chairmen of the district councils and the municipal committees and mayors and deputy mayors of the metropolitan corporations and municipal corporations had been allowed through an open division instead of a secret ballot.

The amendments had also sought allocation of reserved seats to political parties in accordance with their strength on general seats. It said that candidates were to be chosen for the allocated seats from lists provided by political parties concerned to the authority conducting the election. Earlier, those elected on the general seats were required to elect candidates on reserved seats.

The petitions were submitted by Advocate Mubeenuddin Qazi on behalf of PTI and PML-Q. The petitions also opposed changes in criteria for qualification to technocrat seats and termed as unjustified the increase in number of technocrat and youth member seats. It said technical expertise was no longer required for selection of members on these seats. They stated that amending the PLGO 2013 after the announcement of the election schedule suggested that it was done with a malafide intention.

Counsel Mubeenuddin Qazi submitted that under Article 226 of the Constitution election to a political office could only be held through a secret ballot. He said that under Articles 140A, 218(3) and 219(d) of the Constitution the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was required to hold local government elections. He said that in various judgments both Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan had observed that local government elections were required to be held under rules specified in the Constitution. Thus, he said, the provincial government’s decision to hold elections of chairmen and vice chairmen of the district councils and the municipal committees and mayors and deputy mayors of the metropolitan corporations and municipal corporations through an open division was in violation of the Constitution.

Advocate Qazi said that in elections held on secret ballot candidates could not influence voters. “A secret ballot strengthens the democratic process by protecting privacy of voters,” he said. He said that in an open-division election the provincial government could threaten with consequences ruling party councillors for voting against the party leadreship’s wishes. He said other councillors who vote for the ruling party candidates would be rewarded. “Open division encourages councillors to sell their votes for money.”

The counsel asked the court to set aside the impugned amendments and restrain the ECP from holding upcoming elections till a decision was reached in the matter.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th,  2016.

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