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Senate elections will be held by secret balloting: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Pakistan issued its written verdict. Source: FILE.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday issued its verdict on a presidential ordinance seeking an open ballot in the upcoming Senate elections.

The top court has ruled that the secret balloting will be held for the Senate polls scheduled on March 3 under Article 226 of the constitution. A five-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Yahya Afridi announced the verdict in open court.

The apex court announced a 4:1 decision with Justice Yahya Afridi dissenting with the majority opinion. However, the court said it was the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct free and fair elections. The commission can use technology to ensure the transparency of the polls.

The apex court ruled that the Election Commission is empowered to take all the steps to ensure transparency in the polls. “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,” the short order stated.  The court further said that it is up to the ECP to decide to which extent the voting should remain secret. 

The Supreme Court had reserved its decision on the matter on February 25 after conclusion of proceedings on presidential reference seeking legal opinion to hold Senate elections on open ballot without a constitutional amendment. A day earlier, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had noted that the parliament must decide the method of voting for Senate elections, including the degree of secrecy to be allowed.

Senators have in past elections been accused of engaging in horse-trading with 20 PTI members even dismissed from the party after the 2018 elections. The opposition parties have been protesting the move, especially after the government brought in a presidential ordinance that paves the way for open balloting in the upcoming Senate elections. They have said that such changes can only be brought about constitutionally and thus the parliament should have been taken into confidence before such a decision.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has said that the election campaign for Senate election in the country will come to an end with effect from the midnight falling between March 1st and 2nd, 2021.

The commission has asked all the political parties and the contesting candidates to follow the provisions of law and exercise self-restraint so that the poll is held in an orderly and peaceful manner on March 3.

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