The secrecy of the ballot

  • ECP’s reply to SC further weakens government’s case

The Election Commission’s reply to the Supreme Court, that Senate elections had always been held by secret ballot, has not just strengthened the application of Article 226, which provides for all elections under the Constitution to be held by secret ballot, but has also thrown a spanner in the PTI  government’s efforts to being its KP Assembly party under control. The government has moved the Supreme Court, through a presidential reference, to allow it to move away from the secret ballot for Senate elections, so that it can avoid the sale of votes that had become traditional in the KP Assembly where the relatively smaller House meant that a relatively smaller number of members could combine to ignore the party whip and vote for some other candidate with sufficiently deep pockets. The government, whose problem with the last KP Assembly was that it could not overcome the tradition with its fervor, wanted the Supreme Court to find it a way around the apparently insuperable bar of Article 226.

Another omission it made was to provide its proposed scheme, either in the form of draft legislation or otherwise. As the ECP has said, abandoning the secret ballot would mean that independent MNAs and MPAs, of which there are presently 18, would be disenfranchised, if a system of allocating seats to the parties is proposed. The failure to provide a draft strengthened the Jamaat Islami contention that the reference should be dismissed because it involved a political question.

That shows that the PTI is trying to cover its political weakness by means of the reference. If indeed it wished to tackle the problem of horsetrading in Senate elections, it would have to amend the Constitution, which the Supreme Court has to interpret. ‘Interpretation’ does not mean finding a way to do something that plain language forbids or enjoins. Besides, the problem seems to be basically one that the PTI will face. Its inability to carry out legislation, let alone amendments to the Constitution, is because it has taken such a high hand with the Opposition that it cannot ask it to help it to legislate. The PTI, it seems, knows that it cannot get around Article 226, so it wants to blame the opposition, the Supreme Court, anyone but itself, for its own failure to discipline KP MPAs.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]


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