LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday issued notices to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Parliamentary Law Affairs Ministry to seek instructions to add “none of the above” (NOTA) section in the ballot papers to be published for the 2018 general elections. The petition was heard by Justice Shahid Karim.
The petitioner, Wasim Rana, argued in the court that the citizens under the Article 19-A of the constitution should have the freedom of expression while participating in the electoral process. The counsel for the petitioner Sheraz Zaka said the voters should have the right to choose none of those candidates contesting the elections in their respective constituencies as it is likely to enhance the public confidence and scope of political expression which is important for the strengthening of democracy.
Zaka said that not only is it a fundamental right, but it can possibly serve as a tool to engage those voters in the electoral process who usually do not participate on the election day due to which the turnover also remains low. Also, he said that it can be a way to increase accountability and transparency in the elections.
However, the counsel for the ECP argued that there is no such obligation upon them by the Elections Act 2017 to inculcate NOTA section in the ballot papers. However, the court restrained the publishing of the ballot papers before June 17 and fixed the date of the next hearing for June 12.
Meanwhile, LHC appointed former attorney general of Pakistan Salman Aslam Butt as the amicus curiae (friend of court) to give advice to the court on the matter on the next hearing. Justice Shahid Karim said that the matter is of public importance and adjourned the hearing till June 12.
It is worth mentioning that the right of NOTA exists in several countries including Columbia, Ukraine, Brazil, Bangladesh, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Chile, France, Belgium, Greece and some states of the US such as Nevada. Indian Supreme Court has already ruled, after a legal battle, that NOTA is a critical part of democracy, and hence such an option should be given to the people.
The NOTA option is considered as a dissenting voice, where people express lack of confidence yet participate in the process.