SC adjourns hearing on Presidental reference seeking opinion on Senate elections till Wednesday

ISLAMABAD:The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing on Presidential reference seeking an opinion on open balloting for the upcoming Senate elections till Wednesday.

The court also summoned the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commission members to appear again before the court on Wednesday.

A five-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Yahya Afridi heard the reference.

During the course of proceedings, the Chief Election Commissioner and members of the Election Commission appeared before the court.

The Chief Election Commissioner said that the ECP had submitted its written response.

He said that there was a mechanism to prevent corrupt practices in the electoral process. Chapter 10 of the Election Act mentioned the prevention of electoral corruption, he added.

He said that the Constitution guaranteed transparent elections. There was also a mechanism to take action if any other corrupt activity was reported in the election, he added.

Justice Mushir Alam said that how it would be identified if a political party involved in election rigging.

Justice Ijaz said that bribery, vote-buying and undue influence during the election process were also corrupt activities.

He asked the ECP to explain what steps had been taken to stop corrupt practices in elections. The Election Commission also had the authority to take precautionary measures to prevent premature corruption, he added.

He said it was the responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct transparent elections.

The CEC said that if a crime was committed, there was a different way to take action against it.

He said that the Election Commission had issued a Code of Conduct for Senate elections.

The Chief Justice asked the CEC what steps had been taken for transparent Senate elections?

Justice Ijaz asked what was the real meaning of secrecy? The law stated that a voter would keep his/ her vote secret when casting vote, he added.

Justice Yahya Afridi asked had the CEC and members consulted with each other on matters of secrecy?

He asked how corrupt practices in electoral process be curbed?

Justice Ijaz asked the ECP to show where it was mentioned that ballot papers confidentiality mean secrecy. Secrecy is only for voting, not forever, he added.

He asked was it possible if serial numbers were written on the ballot papers and the party chief could trace them when required? The CEC replied the sanctity of secrecy would be lost if this was done.

Justice Ijaz asked the CEC where it was written in the law.

Justice Bandial said that the purpose of secrecy was to give freedom and protection to the voters.

The CEC said that the commission hide the voter’s identity and there was no mark or serial number on ballot papers. If the serial number was entered, the voter’s identity would be revealed, he added.

Justice Ijaz asked the court was not asking to reveal identity, but to ask how the sale of votes would be determined.

He said that the the Election Commission could not allow any specific marking so that the voter could show whom he had voted for. The secrecy of votes did not last forever, he added.

Justice Bandial asked how would it be identified if the tribunal had to look at a voter’s vote three months after the general election?

The CEC said that the voter ID was confidential and could not be disclosed. He said that constitutional amendment was required to disclose voter’s identity.

Justice Ijaz said that the bench was not asking about open ballot but it wanted to know how the vote could be identified. “We want to understand the specific procedure,” he added.

Justice Bandial said that an affidavit was taken while submitting nomination papers. He said the ECP could take such an affidavit or create a complaint cell.

He asked what steps were taken to prevent corrupt practices?

The CEC said that the commission already had a mechanism in place to prevent corrupt practices.

Justice Yahya Afridi said that the court wanted to help ECP in curbing corrupt practices.

Justice Ijaz asked how many members were disqualified by the Election Commission for corrupt practices in the previous Senate election?

The Chief Justice said that the ECP had to fulfill its constitutional obligation.

He asked what devices had been created to prevent corrupt practices?

The CEC said that the commission was reviewing the matter of video.

Justice Ijaz said that this was a two year old video.

He observed that the whole Pakistan knew but the Election Commission was unaware.

The Chief Justice said that the laws had a purpose and it was ECP’s responsibility to enforce them. The court could not understand the working of ECP, he added.

He said ECP had to curb corrupt practices and hold elections in accordance with the law.

The Attorney General said that he had a suggestion that he wanted to put before the court. If a serial number was put on the ballot paper in the Senate election, it would not affect privacy, he added.

He said the serial numbers would be listed on the counter files which would be available as record of the Election Commission.

Justice Afridi said that respect the Constitution which guaranteed the independence of the Election Commission.

Raza Rabbani said that there were more than one stakeholders in this pending case.

He said it would be difficult for other stakeholders to agree with the proposal in question. The Election Commission could come up with a solution by involving all the stakeholders, he added.

The Chief Justice said that there was a clear public opinion regarding the Senate election. The leaders of political parties had agreed in their speeches on the transparency of the Senate elections, he added.

He said that the bench was just asking the Election Commission what was the mechanism to overcome this situation.

Justice Ijaz said that the Election Commission also had the power to make rules.

Raza Rabbani said that the Election Commission should take any action in the context of Article 218 of the Constitution. The step taken by the Election Commission should be independent, he added.