Apex court ruling vindicates our stance: govt, opposition

Published March 2, 2021
ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the prime minister Babar Awan speaks to journalists as federal ministers Fawad Chaudhry and Shafqat Mahmood, 
special assistant to the PM Dr Shahbaz Gill and Senator Faisal Javed look on, outside the office of Election Commission of Pakistan on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the prime minister Babar Awan speaks to journalists as federal ministers Fawad Chaudhry and Shafqat Mahmood, special assistant to the PM Dr Shahbaz Gill and Senator Faisal Javed look on, outside the office of Election Commission of Pakistan on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

• Shibli says bad day for traders of conscience
• Shafqat wants barcode on votes for identification
• According to Maryam, RTS, Daska-fog technologies won’t work
• PPP insists anticipatory ordinance has expired after verdict

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court finally gave its opinion on the question of open ballot just a couple of days before the Senate poll when political temperature in the federal capital is at its peak, both the opposition and the government hailed the much-awaited ruling on Monday, calling it the victory of their positions.

Hailing the decision as “historic”, Minister for Information Senator Shibli Faraz in a tweet said: “Today is a bad day for the businessmen and traders of conscience; those who set up markets for votes will be disappointed. This is a success of Imran Khan’s vision of transparent elections. With the use of technology in the light of the [SC] opinion, transparency will be ensured and identification of votes will become possible.”

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood also told reporters outside the head office of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in Islamabad that the SC’s decision “supports our stance and takes it forward”.

The education minister was joined by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar and PTI Senator Faisal Javed.

Mr Mahmood said the SC decision “has shown a path” as to how bad practices in the Senate elections could be prevented.

It was “clearly written” that it was the duty of the ECP to conduct an election free of corrupt practices, he said, adding that in his view the best way to ensure this was to have a bar code on votes or anything that could make the votes identifiable. He said this way the ECP would be able to determine who had voted for whom during the Senate election.

The education minister said: “The PTI feels that this SC decision validates our stance and takes it forward against the environment of corruption with regards to the Senate polls, which had been developed in the past, must be eliminated. And, what the SC said is that such measures should be taken, which should not let the corruption mar the poll exercise.”

Adviser Awan said the SC referred to a 1967 decision of the top court that allowed for “secrecy to be lifted considering the present circumstances, this is clearly written”.

“This is a decisive moment in Pakistan’s history for elections to be conducted fairly,” he said, adding that the entire power went to the words under Article 218 (i.e. to organise and conduct the elections, which the Election Commission does).

From the very beginning, PM Khan had been striving for corruption-free elections, the adviser said. “He wanted that at least once there should be no market of conscience selling during the Senate elections,” he remarked.

Minister Chaudhry said the SC’s advice was “clear” that voters and their votes should be identifiable. “This is the principle on which the prime minister and the cabinet had sent this reference to the SC,” he said.

“What is the SC’s decision? They have said the secrecy of the ballot will remain secret for political parties but it won’t be secret for the ECP. So if there are allegations of horse trading or selling of votes, then the ECP can conduct an inquiry,” said Mr Chaudhry.

The technology minister also tweeted that the SC had “acknowledged the stance” to end horse-trading and corrupt practices in the Senate polls, adding it “has not adhered to the principle of full secret ballot”.

Opposition parties

In her tweet, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz vice president Maryam Nawaz said the SC opinion once again proved that “the Constitution is far above the tricks of vote thieves, malicious references and conspiratorial ordinances”.

After the court decision, she said, “alarms of technology are being raised” but warned that “RTS and Daska-fog technologies” wouldn’t work anymore.

“Why are you afraid of the power of the vote?” she questioned.

Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is also vice president of the PML-N, while speaking at a press conference criticised President Arif Alvi for promulgating two highly controversial ordinances; one against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and the other providing for open ballot for Senate elections even before the SC decision on the presidential reference on the same matter.

“Had he gone through the Constitution, there would have been no need to send a reference to the Supreme Court,” the ex-PM remarked.

He noted that President Alvi should represent the state and not a particular political party and therefore must not promulgate politically-motivated and controversial ordinances.

The Pakistan Peoples Party also welcomed the SC verdict on the question of voting in Senate elections. PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Babar hailed the verdict as “triumph of law, justice and Constitutionalism”.

It is also a vindication of the position taken by the PPP in the Supreme Court on the issue, he said.

The PPP deplored that the PTI government abused the office of the President into filing the presidential references. He said the President’s Office issued an ordinance even when the apex court was seized with the same matter. Never before legislation had been sought to be done through what has come to be known as ‘anticipatory ordinance’, he added.

‘Anticipatory ordinance’

The PPP secretary general said it was no less deplorable that the President also signed on the dotted line of the advice sent to him in filing reference under the Constitution before the Supreme Court as well as in issuing an ‘anticipatory ordinance’ without applying his mind and without asking any questions from the government.

The office of the President of Pakistan was and ought to be much more than merely an ordinance-making workshop, he remarked.

PPP Central Information Secretary and MNA Shazia Atta Marri said the PTI leadership had no trust in elected party members.

She the apex court rejected the presidential reference seeking Senate elections through ‘open ballot’ and clearly directed the authorities concerned that Senate polls be conducted through secret ballot under Article 226 of the Constitution. “In this connection, the Supreme Court has declared it mandatory to abide by the Constitution,” she said, while hailing the decision.

She said the PTI-led government should refrain from making the apex court controversial in this regard. She said both the presidential reference and the related ordinance expired after this opinion of the apex court. “The government cannot run the country through merely promulgating ordinances,” she added.

The government seemed worried after the court opinion on the presidential reference, she said, adding that the government could not force the ECP to violate the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021

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