Wednesday Mar 03, 2021
Legal and political experts have strongly supported the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold this year’s Senate elections through a secret ballot.
The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), a think-tank focused on political and public policy research, held a virtual conference which included panellists senior Supreme Court advocate Shahid Hamid, former principal secretary to prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad and Pildat President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob.
The session was moderated by Pildat Joint Director Aasiya Riaz.
Opening the conference, Mehboob said that while the issue of the secrecy of the ballot for the Senate elections 2021 is resolved for now, it remains to be seen how this plays out in future.
The Pildat president questioned the relevance of the 1967 Niaz Ahmad v Azizuddin & Others (PLD 1967 SC 466) case, cited in the Supreme Court’s order, which states that secrecy is not absolute.
“That case [the 1967 one] is about presiding officers who accidentally put their name on ballot papers,” Mehboob said, “So how does it apply to the presidential reference?”
The Pildat president spoke about the exchange in court between judges and the ECP officials to ask if this will affect the equation between the judiciary and the Commission in the coming years.
In response, Fawad believed that it was premature to discuss the secrecy of the ballot until the detailed opinion of the apex court was not out.
He then argued in favor of the secrecy of the ballot. “In the first Senate polls, the framers of the 1973 Constitution were present,” Fawad said, adding that if secrecy of the ballot was indeed against the spirit of the Constitution, this issue would have been raised back then.
When asked how many lawmakers sell or buy votes, Fawad said the number is very low. “As the democratic process in the country evolves with our continuous elections, this situation will get better,” he said.
He added that political parties need to improve their internal system.
Fawad supported the minority opinion by Justice Yahya Afridi that the issue of secret ballot need not have been sent to the Pakistan top court.
Meanwhile, Hamid believed that while the opinion of the apex court is not binding, there have to be concrete reasons on why an opinion cannot be implemented.
Disagreeing with the minority view of Justice Afridi, Hamid believed that the issue of corrupt practices is indeed an issue, arguing that the issue of corrupt practices must be resolved and Parliament and relevant institutions have three more years to resolve this before the next Senate election.