Open ballot to allow ‘deep state’ to exploit lawmakers, SC told

Published February 23, 2021
A five-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up a presidential reference seeking open ballot for the Senate elections. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
A five-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up a presidential reference seeking open ballot for the Senate elections. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

ISLAMABAD: Senator Mian Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan Peoples Party on Monday feared that identification through traceable ballot may open opportunities for the “deep state” to exploit, blackmail or prosecute public representatives on the pretext of corrupt practices.

“I am not casting any aspersion on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), but the deep state may have access to the ballot papers even before the election tribunal. This is the reality of life in our country,” the PPP stalwart argued before a five-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up a presidential reference seeking open ballot for the Senate elections.

He contended that the identification of voters on ballot papers was also against the command of Article 226 of the Constitution which stated that the elections for the Senate as well as the National Assembly should be held under the Constitution.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the bench, emphasised that allegations of corrupt practices on the part of the members could only be established by the court of law through independent trial.

“In this world, videos are manufactured showing buying and selling of votes,” Senator Rabbani said.

“We live in an imperfect world but not that imperfect since at the end it is justice which prevails always,” Justice Ahsan observed.

“But by the time I reach the courts, my reputation would have been at the boots and I will be on the verge of committing suicide,” Mr Rabbani said, adding that secret ballot was the essence of the Senate elections and that Article 226 of the Constitution did not attract one-man-one-vote concept.

It means strong candidate should come to the elections, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who heads the bench, observed.

This is an occupational hazard, Justice Ahsan remarked.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed that the argument the PPP counsel propagating was a bit disturbing and against the fundamental principles. What the counsel is traversing, if allowed to be carried on, would encourage the system of defiance of party discipline, Justice Bandial said, adding that democracy did not allow egos to develop and defiance could not override party principles.

One would want to see political parties to be strong since democracy will never take root if individuals become powerful, he observed. “The civilian supremacy, be it in terms of the bureaucracy or parliament, has receded over the years and this is the reality,” Senator Rabbani said, adding that it was on constant downward slide.

The forces of the state are so powerful that this flick of the secret ballot, if taken away, would mean that the members will not only become exposed to the political parties but also to the ‘deep state’. The political parties and society have to function by adhering to the Constitution if “we want to see them evolve”, Senator Rabbani said, emphasising that if the apex court came to a conclusion that removal of the secret ballot was necessary to guard against corrupt practices, the other menace he had highlighted would prevail and he would be standing before the Supreme Court with a number of petitions.

The chief justice recalled that there was a time when the ballots were considered to be secret but many countries, including Germany, Belgium, France and even Ireland, then toned down the concept of secrecy.

Senator Rabbani argued that there might be a case where members of provincial assemblies formed a group secretly against the party policy over let’s say construction of a dam and they might cast their votes in favour of a candidate of a different political party who might share their views.

“We should also keep this in mind that what would be the plight of these members and what political backlash would they have to face if they were exposed,” the counsel said, adding: “We are living in a feudal, tribal and ugly capitalist society where the state could not even protect 20 returning officers (RO) [a reference to the recent Daska by-elections]. When the state cannot guarantee security then how a middle class person can protect himself.”

Justice Ahsan, however, reminded that dissenters always had the courage to stand up against the dictatorial regimes and face the consequences for taking a principled stand.

Senator Rabbani highlighted that courts go hoarse in emphasising invoking of Article 10 that ensures fair trial, yet missing persons never surface, though notices have been issued against the highest offices.

“What are you trying to say?” asked the chief justice.

Mr Rabbani replied that even directives of the courts were not obeyed.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021

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