On Monday, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court ruled that Senate polls can not be held through an open ballot, under Article 226 of the Constitution. The bench, headed by Gulzar Ahmed Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), announced the statement in the open court with a large majority.
“It is the responsibility of the Election Commission to end corrupt practices from the electoral process and it can utilise the technology in this regard,” said the apex court, adding that the Election Commission is authorized to make decisions in order to warrant transparency.
The court, however, ruled that the secrecy of the ballot “is not absolute”.
“[The] Election Commission is required to take all available measures including utilising technologies to fulfil the solemn constitutional duty to ensure that the election is ‘conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against,” said the verdict.
Government claims victory
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders have welcomed the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan’s ruling on the presidential reference regarding Senate election balloting and termed it a win in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s fight against corruption.
Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid said that the government respected the Supreme Court’s decision to conduct the forthcoming Senate elections through secret ballot under Article 226 of the Constitution.
He said the government was committed to ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections, and was hoping to win the majority seats in the Senate elections. He added that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was fully empowered to take all necessary steps, including the use of the latest technology, for conducting transparent and corruption-free elections.
Minister for Information Shibli Faraz termed the SC’s opinion “historic,” adding that the court had said that the secrecy of votes was not absolute. He further urged the ECP to use the latest technology and take all necessary steps to ensure transparency in the elections.
He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted transparency in the electoral system, whereas the opposition parties had been benefitting from corrupt practices like horse-trading and rigging.
PTI Senator Faisal Javed also expressed satisfaction at the SC’s verdict, terming it a “victory for Pakistan.” He said the order to ensure transparency and use technology to discourage corrupt practices aligned with the PTI’s vision. He added that people will know what happens in the Senate for the first time.
Terming the SC’s order a strong one for transparency, Faisal Javed acknowledged that work has to be done by the parliament to end corruption.
He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan entered politics with the aim to end corruption, and the apex court’s decision was a win for him.
Opposition celebrates verdict
On the other hand, the opposition too claimed that the SC verdict vindicates their stance and has foiled the government’s plan to interfere with the Senate polls. Vice President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz said in a tweet that the SC’s opinion once proved that “the Constitution is far above the tricks of vote thieves, malicious references and conspiratorial ordinances”.
She said that now “alarms of technology are being raised” but warned that “RTS and Daska-fog technologies” wouldn’t work anymore. She further questioned the government, “why are you afraid of the power of the vote?”
Leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Sindh government’s spokesperson, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, echoed the sentiment, adding that the SC opinion was in congruence with the “principled stance of the PPP, Sindh government, different opposition parties and Pakistan’s various lawyer organisations”.
“What was that stance? It was that Senate polls must be held in accordance with the Constitution,” said Wahab. “Our stance was victorious because it was in accordance with the Constitution and the PTI and federal government lost,” he added, “today is a day for the lovers of the Constitution and those who have always struggled for the supremacy of the Constitution and free and fair elections.”