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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was apprised that the House Business Advisory Committee (HBAC) of the Senate in August 2015 had recommended a mechanism of printing name of voter on the ballot paper and giving authority to the party head to seek details after the election.

Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani submitted a written synopsis through Barrister Muhammad Ali Khan Saif on Friday.

President Dr Arif Alvi on December 23, 2020, had filed a reference under Article 186 of Constitution requesting the Court to interpret Article 226 that Senate elections are not under the Constitution.

The National Assembly speaker, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments have supported the federal government’s stance to hold the Senate election through ‘open ballot.’ However, the Election Commission of Pakistan, opposition parties, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, Senator Raza Rabbani, and many senior lawyers are in favour of Senate polls through ‘secret ballot.’

The Senate chairman in a statement said pursuant to the Senate elections held in March 2015, the issue of rigging and floor crossing came to the limelight which led to the debate regarding mode of elections of members of the Senate.

The Upper House assumed its role and responsibility by taking up the issue on its own.

The HBAC of the Senate took up the matter and after discussing all aspects it was decided that the matter may be brought before the House for recommendations.

As per the decision of the HBAC, mode of elections for the Senate members was discussed on August, 7, 2015.

The members debated the issue and expressed views above party lines.

The House after extensive debate felt the need to constitute a Committee of Whole on the matter.

A motion was moved by the Leader of the House on 10th Aug, 2015 and the Committee of the Whole was constituted to consider mode of elections of members of Senate, pros and cons of single transferable vote system, polls reforms and other ancillary matters.

The Committee recommended a mechanism of printing the name of a voter on the ballot paper and giving authority to the party head to seek details after the election.

The chairman’s reply said that the Senate believes that the interpretation of Article 226 of Constitution and Section 122(6) of Election Act, 2017 regarding secret ballot or otherwise, in the Senate polls is the exclusive domain of the Supreme Court being the topmost court of the country.

The Supreme Court always adopted the interpretation, which advances greater public welfare and larger national objectives.

The Constitution is a living document, which portrays the aspiration and genius of the people and aims of creating progress, peace, welfare, amity among the citizens, therefore, while interpreting its different Articles, approach of the Court should be dynamic rather than static, pragmatic and not pedantic and elastic rather than rigid, he submitted.

It is the prerogative of the Parliament to amend Articles 59, 63, and 226 of the Constitution, but it is also the prerogative of the apex court to interpret provisions of the Constitution. The pendency of any bill before the Parliament does not by itself bar exercise of powers under Article 186 of Constitution.

It is consensus among all stakeholders including parliamentarians, political parties, intelligentsia, journalists and civil society that free and fair elections to elect members of the Senate would promote transparency and accountability in the electoral process, acknowledge respect for will of the voters, strengthen political parties and their discipline, which is essential for parliamentary democracy.

In direct elections, secret voting is the fundamental principle, whereas if the elections are indirect then electorates are bound to follow party lines.

The elected representatives are answerable both to the voters and the party and they are bound to follow the party line while voting.

The party which has awarded them tickets to contest the elections has some legitimate expectations about which an electorate is supposed to know.

If he or she wants to exercise his or her vote in a free manner, he or she should have the courage and stand up to say to whom he or she wants to give a vote and then face the consequences.

Meaning thereby, party lines or party directions vis-à-vis indirect elections are not inconsistent with the Constitution or any other law of the land on the subject.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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