The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government is surprised at the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) reply to the Supreme Court in the presidential reference case wherein it supported secret ballot in the Senate elections.
A senior government functionary, while talking to The Express Tribune, revealed that the ECP’s concise statement on Saturday came as a surprise for the government. He said that the government did not expect that the election supervisor would oppose the open ballot.
Backing the secret ballot in the Senate elections, the ECP submitted a statement to a five-judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, through its counsel Sajeel Sheryar Swati on Saturday.
Another senior government functionary believed that the ECP’s stand is in violation of Article 218(3) of the Constitution and Supreme Court judgment in PLD 2012 SC 681, which directed the ECP to take all steps to curb corrupt practices and make elections transparent, honest, fair and just.
He questioned as to what steps the ECP has taken so far to make the Senate elections transparent. On the other hand, ECP sources said that the concise statement was prepared on the instructions of ECP members.
Legal analysts have said that despite showing anger, the PTI may refrain from giving any reaction to the ECP’s stand because the matter is sub judice. Likewise, the foreign funding case hearing is also about to resume before the ECP.
It is also learnt that not all the government functionaries are on same page regarding open ballot in the Senate elections. One section in the PTI government does not want it. Even a cabinet member has reportedly said that establishment had also evinced no interest in changing the method of Senate polls.
A senior PTI leader believed that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to give party tickets to a few individuals who are unpopular among lawmakers and there were apprehensions that in case of secret ballot, they might not get the votes.
Interestingly, the PTI had not invited applications for party tickets for the Senate elections so far. Even the party had not yet formed a board to shortlist the candidates. It is learnt that Prime Minister Imran will himself announce the names of the PTI candidates.
Surprisingly, pro-establishment lawyers are openly saying that Senate elections could not be held through open ballot without a constitutional amendment. Senior lawyers Waseem Sajjad, Raja Amir Abbas, Riaz Haneef Rahi also said that a constitutional amendment would be required for the purpose.
The government through Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan has sought interpretation of Article 226 of the Constitution through the presidential reference. According to Article 226, all elections other than those of the prime minister and chief ministers, shall be held through secret ballot.
The AGP has said that the government just wants clarification whether the Senate elections should be held under the Constitution or the law. The government believes that open ballots in the Senate elections can be introduced by amending the Election Act 2017, instead of amending the Constitution.
However, the opposition parties contend that a constitutional amendment is required to change the voting mode. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Senator Raza Rabbani, while becoming party to the case, have opposed the government plan. Similarly, the superior bars are also opposing the move.
The ECP in its concise statement said that articles 59, 219, 224 (3) and (5) of the Constitution provided for the elections to the Senate. It added that “election of the Senate ‘is election under the Constitution’ for the purposes of Article 226 of the Constitution”.
The case is being heard by a five judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed. The court has delisted the reference case which was fixed for hearing today (Monday).