Govt to move Supreme Court over Senate polls this week

The state’s top law officer has said the federal government is likely to file a presidential reference to the Supreme Court, seeking guidance about holding the upcoming Senate polls through open ballot rather than secret ballot.

“The reference is being prepared. It is likely to be filed under Article 186 of the Constitution this week,” Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan said while talking to the media on Monday.

The AGP clarified that the government has sought the SC’s opinion over open ballot only and not regarding show of hand method. “We will go for the interpretation of Article 226 of the Constitution.”

Article 226 says all elections under the Constitution other than those of the prime minister and chief ministers shall be held through secret ballot.

The AGP said there is nothing about the timing of the Senate elections in reference. “The idea of introducing open ballot is to promote transparency and to curb use of money in Senate polls,” he added.

The legal experts said composition of the bench will be significant to decide the presidential reference.

Generally, the chief justice of Pakistan constitutes a larger bench to give opinion over questions raised in the reference. The SC may also appoint amicus to assist it in this matter.

Senior lawyers have already recommended that a larger bench comprising five senior most judges should take up such constitutional matters.

As opposition threatened to hand in resignations from the federal and provincial legislatures, the ruling party started weighing the option of holding the Senate polls – scheduled for March – at an earlier date in order to win control of the upper house by snatching majority from the PML-N.

“[Senate polls] can take place even before February,” Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz said on December 15 after a federal cabinet meeting.

According to Shibli, the cabinet meeting – chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan – had mulled over holding the Senate election in February instead of March through open vote instead of secret balloting.

Earlier, the AGP in his opinion said in view of Article 226 of the Constitution, it has been assumed that the election for the Senate is required to be carried out through secret ballot, unless the Constitution is amended to hold it by another method.

He said there is also another legal interpretation under which polls for Senate are not considered elections in the Constitution.

The AGP was of the view that if Section 122 (6) of the Election Act 2017 is amended through an ordinance, then Senate polls can be held through open method instead of secret ballot.

However, during a cabinet meeting Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry had objected to the decision of filing a presidential reference in the apex court.

He said the open ballot method cannot be adopted without amending the Constitution.

The minister said the opposition parties should also be consulted about changing the method of voting as one-sided legislation would not be appropriate on this matter. Fawad maintained that political matters should be dealt by politicians themselves without the judiciary’s involvement.

Opposition parties have also expressed serious doubts over the government decision to introduce open ballot in upcoming Senate elections.

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