Govt decides to promulgate ordinance on Senate open vote

In a surprise move, the government has decided to promulgate an ordinance to amend the Election Act 2017 to hold the upcoming Senate elections through open ballot.

However, the enforcement of the ordinance will be subject to the outcome of a presidential reference wherein the federal government has sought opinion from the Supreme Court whether the Senate elections could be held through open ballot without any constitutional amendment.

The government has also sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether the Senate elections could be held through open ballot by amending the Election Act 2017 that requires simple legislation.

The presidential reference is being heard in the Supreme Court pending a decision. A five-judge larger bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed has been hearing the case. Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan is still arguing the matter and counter arguments are still awaited.

Sources in the AGP office told The Express Tribune that Khan has prepared the draft of the ordinance and sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

It would be then be circulated among the cabinet members for approval.

A senior government official informed The Express Tribune that the ordinance is being promulgated after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announcement the Senate elections schedule for February 11.

There is slim chance that that the presidential reference would be decided before the Senate elections schedule. Keeping in view the prevailing situation, the sources said, the AGP had advised the prime minister to promulgate the ordinance the enforcement of which would be subject to the outcome of the presidential reference.

If the presidential reference’s decision comes in favour of the government after issuance of the Senate elections schedule, then the changed method of open ballot could not be introduced in the upcoming elections.

Senior lawyers are appreciating AGP Khan for timely advising the government to promulgate the ordinance. Interestingly, the law ministry is being kept away in the matter.

According to the proposed amendment, the government will amend the Election Act 2017 wherein it is stated that the Senate elections will be held on the basis of secret ballot.

New insertions will be made in the act that the ballot will be opened wherein voter will disclose his identity. Likewise, it is also added in proviso that head of a party may move an application to the ECP for examination of his party MPAs ballots.

Earlier, for achieving the same objective, the government tabled a bill for the 26th Constitution Amendment. The bill proposed amendment to Article 226 to introduce open ballot for Senate elections.

A member of the cabinet says that the purpose of open ballot to ensure transparency in the Senate elections. The government is using every option for the purpose.

Earlier, the ECP in its reply submitted in the Supreme Court opposed the government’s plan to hold the Senate elections through open ballot by amending the Election Act 2017.

All opposition parties, including the Sindh High Court Bar Association, also opposed the government plan on the Senate elections.

Lawyers, who witness the proceedings of the presidential reference case, believe that opinion seems to be divided among members of the bench; hence, one cannot say about the outcome of the case.

However, they were of the opinion that that AGP Khalid Jawed Khan has been professionally arguing the case on merit.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)