Senate Polls in Pakistan: Good, Bad, Ugly, the Best Part

Pakistan’s apex court on Monday announced its opinion on PM Imran Khan administration’s reference regarding secret ballots in the upcoming Senate elections (on March 3). The country’s supreme court said polls for the upper house will be held according to Article 226 of the Constitution which calls for secret balloting.

The good part is the five-member bench stated that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was empowered to take all measures to curb corrupt practices under Article 218 (3) of the constitution. Behind the reference was Khan government’s push for transparency and curb on horse-trading in Senate polls. The government felt secret balloting in the upper house led to manipulations previously.

The bad part (for many) is the court also said that secrecy is not absolute –the chief election commissioner had stated to the bench that secrecy is absolute. The court suggested that the ECP could use the latest technology to hold transparent elections –it has shown a path to how bad practices in the Senate elections could be prevented. So, ECP has more homework and more post-poll work to do –additional costs to the kitty notwithstanding.

As a starter, the ECP asked all candidates for Senate elections to submit their affidavit that they would not involve in corrupt practices.

The ugly part is that the Govt, and the opposition both claim victory over the opinion. Also, 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 votes, the ECP can conduct an inquiry.

The opinion clarifies the burden of responsibility for transparency and curbing of corrupt practices in polls and shifts it to ECP.

The court even stated use of technology to achieve the objective and goal of need for secrecy and transparency at the same time for Project Democracy.

That’s the best part.

Therefore, regardless of who wins or loses, “it is a decisive moment in the country’s history for elections to be held transparently and curb horse-trading,” said a political observer.

Irshad Salim, Islamabad