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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the chief election commissioner (CEC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) members to appear before it, and inform about the scheme devised for holding Senate election to guard against the corrupt practices.

The court noted that the ECP under Article 218(3) is empowered to organise and conduct the election, and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.

The bench in its short order, which was dictated in the Court, stated that there is a general perception that the corrupt practice are rampant in the Senate election and with regard to such perception, the ECP has not devised such scheme which it prima facie is entitled.

A five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, and comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Yahya Afridi heard the reference regarding holding of the Senate election either through a “secret ballot” or an “open ballot”.

The chief justice said the ECP had been given duty under law to guard against the corrupt practice.

He said not only the schedule for the Senate election, the ECP also had to give the scheme to guard against the corrupt practice.

Justice Ijaz inquired from the ECP’s counsel what has been done that the corrupt practice is guarded against.

ECP lawyer Barrister Sharjeel informed that the Commission never shies away when the complaint about the corrupt practice has come before it.

Upon that, the judge remarked that it is not the matter of shying away, but what mechanism has been developed by the ECP for transparency, and that the corrupt practice is guarded against.

He said at the time of election, a voter signs and puts a thumb impression on the counterfoil of the ballot paper.

He questioned why the voter’s identity could be identified through thumb impression from NADRA records.

Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan agreeing with Justice Ijaz said the voting should be done through a secret ballot but if the party head later finds out wrongdoing then it could be checked from the ECP’s record.

At the onset of the hearing, the attorney general submitted that after the last hearing besides the political parties, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) also filed applications to become party in the case. He said the SHCBA on January 4, 2021 had condemned the reference as mala fide attempt and passed resolution against it, adding the PBC had also joined hands with the political parties.

He said Section 13 of Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973, elaborately mention the functions of the councils.

The chief justice said the court would examine and protect only the constitutional provisions.

Justice Ijaz noted that the SHCBA not only passed the resolution but sent it to the judges.

“We will not permit the Bars which is beyond their mandate, constitution and top of it to protect the independence of the judiciary.”

He said a line needed to be drawn where the jurisdiction of the apex court and the role of the Bars.

The attorney general said there is an existential threat and deafening silence by the bar councils/association as they are coming against the holding of the Senate election through an open ballot.

The chief justice said they [Bars] are welcome to plead constitutional and legal points, adding the Bar Councils should be independent of the political parties’ influence.

Justice Bandial said the main question before the court is whether the Senate election is under the constitution or the law.

The attorney general argued that whenever the Supreme Court interpreted the constitution provisions, the parliament has not only followed it but also guided by and amended the laws.

The court noted that free vote is provided in the constitution, adding the free vote is possible only through the secret ballot, which is used for the direct vote and the proportional system.

However, the attorney general contended that the minorities and the women seats were filled through parties preferences.

The case was adjourned until today (Tuesday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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