SC dismayed at ECP failure to curb Senate horse trading

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observes commission does not seem to be serious on the issue


Hasnaat Malik February 17, 2021
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed “disappointment” over the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not devising a scheme to curb corrupt practices in the Senate elections and sought recommendations from it in this regard.

A five-judge larger bench — presided over by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed — heard a presidential reference, asking the court if the Senate elections could be held through open ballot without any constitutional amendment.

The top court had summoned the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja as well as the provincial members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) along with a proposed scheme to curb corrupt practices in Senate elections.

As the proceedings started, the top court observed that there was a general perception that corrupt practices were rampant in the Senate elections.

The chief justice asked the CEC what steps had been taken to fulfill the legal obligation of Article 218 (3) – a clause which says it is the duty of the ECP to curb corrupt practices in elections.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan – a member of the bench – said the ECP should take steps beforehand to stop corrupt practices, bribe and pressure tactics in elections.

Apparently referring to a recently surfaced horse-trading video, the CEC said that they would look into the matter.

The chief justice observed that the video existed since 2018 but no action had been taken in this regard.

Read more: Senate open vote decree puts SC in a bind

He said it was the responsibility of the ECP to stop corrupt practices adding that the commission did not seem to be serious on the issue.

On the issue of open balloting, the CEC said the commission hide the voter's identity and there was no mark or serial number on ballot papers. If the serial number is entered, the voter's identity would be revealed, he added.

Justice Ahsan asked what was the real meaning of secrecy. The law stated that a voter would keep their vote secret when casting vote, he added.

The AGP while reading the framework on transparency in elections adopted the stance that Article 226 did not apply in all the phases of the polls. He said secrecy was only applied during polling and not before or after it.

He pointed out that the secrecy in Senate polls was different than in the general elections saying the secrecy of voter in Senate elections was only limited to the day of polling.

The AGP handed over the recommendations for holding transparent elections to the ECP.

However, Senator Raza Rabbani stated that the proposals forwarded by the AGP will be considered the PTI’s recommendations.

He said the ECP will have to take all the stakeholders into confidence on the matter.

The chief justice said that the court was not asking to change the law but it was the constitutional duty of the ECP to hold fair elections.

The hearing of case was adjourned until Wednesday (today).

Last month, the government filed a presidential reference, asking the SC if the upcoming Senate election – scheduled for March 3 – should be held “under the Constitution” or “under the Election Act 2017”.

It also moved a bill seeking to amend the Constitution for introducing open ballot in the Senate elections. Though the concerned standing committee passed the bill, the National Assembly witnessed a noisy session when the government presented the 26th constitutional amendment bill in NA.

Seeing this strong resistance, President Dr Arif Alvi on February 6 signed the Election Amendment Ordinance, 2021, under which the upcoming Senate elections could be held through open balloting.

The ordinance, which amends sections 33, 86 and 122 of the Election Act 2017, was announced with immediate effect. Its enforcement will be subject to the outcome of a presidential reference pending before the SC.

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