Giving its advisory opinion in response to the presidential reference on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled the upcoming Senate election would be held through secret ballot in adherence to the Constitution whereas Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would be responsible to make the polls transparent.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of maintaining a secret ballot in the upcoming Senate election. Interestingly, both the government and opposition are welcoming the top court’s opinion, terming it as a positive development in their favour.
The decision was announced by a five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed with a four-to-one majority as Justice Yahya Afridi wrote a dissenting note. The majority decision-based opinion also ruled that secrecy is not absolute. It added that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was empowered to take all measures to curb corrupt practices under Article 218 (3).
In his dissenting note, a member of the bench Justice Yahya Afridi said, “For the reasons to be recorded later, with utmost respect, the opinion sought by the Worthy President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the instant Reference, is not a question of law within the contemplation of Article 186 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, accordingly, the same is returned unanswered”.
In its 5-page order the Supreme Court ruled the Senate elections will be held under Article 226 of the Constitution saying the ECP can take all steps for transparent elections as it is the job of the Commission to eradicate corruption from the electoral process. The court further said that the ECP can ensure transparent elections through modern technology as per its powers. The court further said that Parliament can amend the Constitution as the vote cannot be kept secret forever.
Talking to TLTP, former vice president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Ikram Chaudhry said that it is the second consecutive presidential reference in which the government has not gained the required result saying earlier the top court has rejected the presidential reference against Justice Faiz Isa.
However, this time the President had sought the opinion of the Supreme Court under Article 186 of the Constitution with reference to Article 226. Voting for the Senate election is scheduled for March 03.
Talking to the media soon after the verdict was announced, Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan welcomed the top court opinion terming the decision of the Supreme Court ‘historic’.
“We welcome the opinion of the court that the secrecy of the ballot is not permanent. For the March 3 Senate election, the court has explicitly asked the Election Commission to use technology”, said the AGP.
He further said that the top court has directed for identifiable ballot papers to be used in Senate polls. “We have got what we wanted,” he stated. The AGP further said , “Now it is up to the ECP to either print the barcode or the serial number on the ballot paper.”
The AGP was of the opinion that the electoral authority has to now take measures to make the polls transparent in light of the top court’s decision.
The writer heads a leading news wire service ‘The Law Today Pakistan’ commonly known as TLTP. He has a special focus on news relating to superior courts adjudication, access to right of information, civil, political, social and economic rights under the approach that existing cyber regime realization ensures procedural fairness in administrative law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org