Thursday, January 28, 2021

Will Punjab back federal government’s idea to hold Senate polls with open ballot?

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The Punjab government has backed holding the Senate polls with the open ballot in its reply over the Presidential reference submitted in the Supreme Court. The federal government has filed the reference in the apex court under Article 186 of the Constitution seeking its opinion about holding the upcoming Senate polls through the open ballot.

The government has sought the opinion of the court if the issue can be decided without amending the constitution by introducing an amendment in section 122 (vi) of the Election Act 2017.

Advocate General Punjab submitted the provincial government’s reply to the court notice, stating that the assembly members used to vote for their personal interest violating party discipline in secret ballot, thus flouting the basic principles of democracy.

The assembly members elected with popular vote, while elected members are entitled to elect senators, the government said in its reply.

“The assembly members have no justification to seek to exercise their right to vote with secret ballot. Those opposing party policies can tender resignations from their assembly seats. One should step down instead of selling the vote,” according to the government reply.

“The procedure of the senate election has been different than other polls. Elections of the president, chairman senate and prime minister conducted under the constitution and the constitution says nothing about any preferred procedure,” the Punjab government said in its reply.

A five-judge larger bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan and Justice Yahya Afridi, hearing the reference.

Read more: PDM narrative ‘flops’ due to anti-Pakistan agenda: Ch Fawad

The apex court had issued notices to Advocate Generals, the Election Commission of Pakistan, Chairman Senate, Speaker National Assembly and the Speakers of provincial assemblies over the issue.

The court had adjourned further hearing of the reference until January 11 (Monday).

PTI to emerge as the winning party?

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, opines that “if the Senate election takes place in March 2021 as scheduled, the PTI is likely to emerge as the largest party in the house, displacing the PML-N from that position”.

It is, however, important to note that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has announced to resign from the assemblies. PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is one of the parties rallying against the government. Syed Murad Shah, Chief Minister Sindh, may advise the dissolution of the assembly shortly ahead of the Senate election in March 2021 which may keep an entire province out of the election.

Read more: PDM blames ISPR for a flop show in Lahore

Mehboob writes that “in case this happens, it will be the first time that a province skips the Senate election cycle”. “Since there is no clear and explicit provision in the Constitution and the Elections Act regarding such a situation, the matter may end up in a court of law for resolution and interpretation of the Constitution,” he continued. “This may become necessary also because fresh election of the chair and deputy chair of the Senate has to take place immediately after the March 2021 election and the absence of half the representation of a province may significantly impact the outcome of these elections,” he concluded.

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