ECP opposes open ballot Senate polls

Election of the Senate is election under the Constitution says the federal body in a statement

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday opposed the federal government's plan to hold Senate elections on open ballot without an amendment in the Constitution.

The ECP, through its counsel Sajeel Sheryar Swati, has submitted a concise statement in the presidential reference case. A five-judge larger bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed presided over the hearing.

"Article 59, 219, 224 (3) & (5) of the Constitution provide for elections to the Senate and, 'Election of the Senate is election under the Constitution' for the purposes of Article 226 of the Constitution", said the ECP.

The statement further states that "most ordinary and natural meaning elucidated by Article 226 is that elections ‘under the Constitution’ are those elections that are held by or under the authority of the Constitution. Article 226 provides only two exceptions i.e. election to the office of Prime Minister and Chief Minister (which on true construction refers to only one exception, the leader of the House)".

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"As per rules of statutory interpretation, when exceptions to a general rule have been specified in the rule, those are the only exceptions and no other exception can be implied or read into the provision," the statement read.

Earlier in December, the PTI led federal government filed a presidential reference to the Supreme Court, seeking guidance about holding the upcoming Senate polls through open ballot rather than secret ballot.

The reference stated that there is national consensus amongst all major political parties, jurists and civil society that the electoral process should be cleansed of the pervasive practice of vote-buying in Senate elections.

The desire to stop vote-buying through open ballot has manifested itself from time to time in the shape of political manifestos of major political parties, the Charter of Democracy executed in 2006 by two former prime ministers and respective heads of their political parties.

The elections will be held for 52 seats as many members of the 104-member Senate are due to retire on March 11. 

Following the merger of the tribal districts with the settled districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the number of provincial assembly members (MPAs) in the provincial assembly rose from 124 to 145.

This increase in seats in the provincial assembly came with a corresponding change in the formula set for securing seats in the senate elections with hopefuls now requiring more votes than in past elections to secure their seat.

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