ISLAMABAD: The absence of laws against horse-trading is one of the major challenges to bringing transparency in the Senate elections. The importance of these laws also comes to light at a time when political parties are accusing one another of buying loyalties to grab the lion’s share in the upper house.
In the light of the existing constitutional provisions, the Senate elections are held through secret ballot which has questioned the transparency of the vote.
There are allegations that political parties are in contact with candidates of rival parties and are trying to win support for their respective candidates in exchange of lucrative favours.
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Unless the existing laws are changed to introduce ‘show of hand’ method in place of secret ballot, there would be no end to horse-trading, political circles believe.
Recently, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N) accused the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership of conspiring to topple the PML-N government in Balochistan to bring a favourable set-up ahead of the Senate elections.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has also accused both the PML-N and the PPP of trying to buy the loyalties of its lawmakers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
Reports also suggest that the PPP is out to cash in on the split in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) camp to ensure maximum seats in the Senate from Sindh.
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“Nothing can be done — absolutely nothing — to stop horse-trading in Senate polls as long as elections are held through a secret ballot,” former secretary Election Commission of Pakistan Kunwar Dilshad told The Express Tribune.
“Instead of cribbing and crying, parliamentary parties need to come together to put an end to secret ballot by bringing a constitutional amendment. This would help ensure transparency and openness which are the basic election essentials,” said the former secretary.
Unlike the election of prime minister and chief ministers, the election to the upper house and of Senate chairman and president of Pakistan is held through secret ballot.
Article 226 of the Constitution reads, “Election by secret ballot: All elections under the Constitution, other than those of the prime minister and the chief minister, shall be by secret ballot.”
According to Dilshad, an election through secret ballot leaves no trail to determine who has voted for whom.
“All you can determine is the vote count; the number of actual votes cast in favour of each contesting candidate. There are no details about who voted for whom. This has opened floodgates of horse-trading. Unfortunately, Senate elections have earned the reputation of being the ‘stock exchange of voters’ where rates are offered and votes are bought,” he said.
The former ECP secretary said the rationale behind Senate elections through secret ballot for the senators was to “listen to their conscience” and vote. “But this is thoroughly misused and we haven’t seen anything like conscience as far as Senate elections are concerned,” he said.
“In addition, even if the identity of any legislator who resorts to horse-trading is revealed, he or she cannot be disqualified from Parliament as the defection clause for voting against party policy applies to the election of prime minister, chief ministers, vote of confidence, no confidence, money bill and constitutional amendment bill,” he said.
Article 63(A) reads, “Disqualification on grounds of defection, etc.
(1) If a member of a parliamentary party composed of a single political party in a house –
(a) resigns from membership of his political party or joins another parliamentary party; or
(b) votes or abstains from voting in the house contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relations to –
(i) election of the prime minister or the chief minister; or
(ii) a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or
(iii) a money bill or a constitution (amendment) bill; he may be declared in writing by the party head to have defected from the political party, and the head of the parliamentary party may forward a copy of the declaration to the presiding officer, and shall similarly forward a copy thereof to the member concerned: provided that before making the declaration, the party head shall provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him.”