SC reserves decision on presidential reference seeking open ballot for Senate polls

ECP requests the court's opinion on the matter by Feb 28

Hasnaat Malik February 25, 2021
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE


The Supreme Court on Thursday concluded its proceedings on presidential reference seeking legal opinion to hold Senate elections on open ballot without a constitutional amendment and reserved its decision in the case.

The case was heard by a five-judge larger bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed.

The attorney for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Sajeel Swati, requested the bench to announce its opinion by February 28, in order to make relevant for the Senate elections which are scheduled for March 3.

Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan said the deep states always believes in secrecy and not transparency.

Hearing the case a day earlier, the CJP had remarked that it was up to the Parliament to decide whether balloting in the Senate should be open or secret.

"We will only respond to the questions that have been asked in regards to the reference; the court only has to determine whether Article 226 of the Constitution applies to the Senate elections," Justice Gulzar had said.

He had stressed that every institution of the state has to perform its work while remaining under its ambit; the Supreme Court wasn't an alternative for the parliament.

Open vote in Senate

Since securing an overwhelming win in the 2018 elections, the PTI government has been eager to hold Senate elections early through an open vote. While the ruling party has claimed that the latter would promote transparency, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has sternly opposed and termed it an attempt by the government to prevent its lawmakers from switching loyalties.

Subsequently, the government presented a bill seeking to amend the Constitution for an open vote in the Senate elections. Though it was passed from the standing committee concerned, the National Assembly witnessed a noisy session when the government presented the 26th constitutional amendment bill in NA.

The federal government had also sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether the Senate elections could be held through open ballot by amending the Election Act 2017 that requires simple legislation.

Seeing the strong resistance from the opposition in the NA, President Dr Arif Alvi on February 6 signed off the Election Amendment Ordinance, 2021, under which 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 the apex court's decision, which has been reserved today.


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