The legal and political dispute in the forthcoming Senate elections over the method of voting poses some tough concerns. Prime Minister Imran Khan was thinking about replacing the secret ballot with a show of hands in the upper house polls. By arguing that the possibility of collusion in secret balloting could be uprooted by a straightforward voting mode, he rationalised this move.
The federal cabinet agreed last week to request the Supreme Court’s advice on the subject. For this investigation, President Arif Alvi was invited to be the conduit. “The president has sought the opinion of the apex court on the proposal of the premier to hold the elections using open ballot/show of hands,” according to a release by the Press Information Service. Hearing of the presidential reference will begin next month.
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Everything is amiss here, though. When their voters were elected to the house in the past, the prime minister and his party colleagues had no issue with a secret vote in the Senate. When the vote of confidence against the Senate speaker, whom they backed, was rejected when certain minority members voted against their party line, they still did not object to the secret ballot. Because of the secret vote, they could do so. A recipient was the PTI.
This newfound liking for a hands-show forces us to ask: right now? Is the PTI not sure in its electoral numbers? Is he scared of desertion? Does it fear like its predicted plurality in the upper house might be dented because of the secret ballot’s unpredictability? These questions need responses from the PTI that can justify the unusual hurry on show and the unorthodox direction being taken before the elections to drive this transition through.
The idea that the ruling party opts for a judicial solution to a solely parliamentary problem is what makes this more concerning. The preferred approach is to have the opposition on board and encourage the matter to be discussed if it truly wishes this reform to come, which is the standard for matters that ought to be voted on in the house.
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There are pros and cons in the open election ballot mode, and in this situation, before a vote takes place, they need to be debated in depth both in the committees and in the assembly.
The PTI should abstain from using a legitimate back door to get it in. It wasn’t going to pass the scent test. In any event, this transition should be part of a wider package of electoral changes to be carried out before the next general election. In the absence of a buy-in from all relevant political stakeholders for such changes, they risk the prestige they need to make elections transparent and non-controversial. It should shun hurry and prefer prudence from the governing party.