Vote of conscience or end of hypocrisy?

Published: 01:20 PM, 10 Feb, 2021
Vote of conscience or end of hypocrisy?
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The ruling PTI and the opposition parties have locked horns over the mode of elections for the Senate elections on 50 percent of the seats that fall vacant every three years with the completion of the sitting members’ six-year term.

The ruling party that expects to be the single largest party in the upper house of parliament on account of its strength in provincial assemblies of Punjab, KP and Balochistan wants the members to cast their votes through show of hands so that nobody could sell the same to the opponents.

The opposition parties, fearing that after its majority in the National Assembly, no matter how slim, its strong position in the Senate will enable it to frame laws of its choice, want the voting through secret ballot, a mode anybody selling his or her vote for monetary or other considerations goes undetected. 

(Calculations based on the party position in all the legislatures indicate that if all the legislators vote in line with the policy of their respective parties the PTI is expected to win 21 seats, followed by six seats each by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and five by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the upcoming Senate elections. Thus, the PTI will become the single largest party in the new Senate with 28 senators, followed by the PPP with 19, PML-N with 17 and BAP with 13 senators). 

The clashing political interests of the treasury and the opposition have led to a legal battle, the outcome of which will have long-term impact.

The government has moved a reference in the Supreme Court to get its opinion on the subject. And since it is not clear how long will the top court take to come up with any opinion, the government has also promulgated a presidential ordinance for voting through show of hands.

The proceedings in the apex court are going on and constitutional experts are giving conflicting opinions about the desirability of the ordinance.  

Opposition alliance (PDM) leaders have urged the top court not to become a party to the matter. Addressing a rally at Hyderabad on Tuesday, PDM leaders said it was the parliament alone that may take a decision on any subject on which the Constitution was silent.

Whatever the court opinion, a leaked video about the sale/purchase of votes by KP MPs for the 2018 Senate elections strengthens the assertion that the vote for the Senate election seats – due to be held by middle of March – should be through show of hands. Otherwise, the legislators, who, under the constitution, are supposed to be sadiq and ameen (honest and truthful) may use the opportunity to fill their pockets with dirty money.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Law Minister Sultan Khan tendered his resignation from the provincial cabinet on Tuesday after the chief minister tweeted that he had asked him to do so over his "alleged appearance in a video" leaked on social media. 

The purported video, shared on Twitter by PTI's official account, showed some parliamentarians sitting before and counting stacks of cash reportedly ahead of the Senate elections in 2018. 

"We will, as per vision of PM, uphold highest standards of accountability & transparency in this province," the chief minister wrote on Twitter. 

In 2018, the PTI had expelled 20 of its members after they were found guilty of accepting Rs50 million each for horse-trading in the 2018 Senate polls by an investigation committee. 

After the Senate elections in 2018, the PTI had "expelled 20 MPAs”.

The virtues of the two modes of casting votes – open or secret – had first come to light after the 1988 elections. PML candidate for the post of chief minister was Nawaz Sharif and his rival from PPP was Sardar Farooq Haider Leghari. Money had been used in the election. 

The PML supported open balloting to bring an end to hypocrisy

When Leghari lost the election for the chief minister, he was got elected on a National Assembly seat from Dera Ghazi Khan and later inducted in the Benazir Bhutto cabinet. 

It may be recalled that in the election for the chief minister those supporting open balloting argued that it would bring ‘hypocrisy’ to an end. But the secret ballot backers contended that this mode enables a voter to cast his vote according to his/her conscience without any external influence. 

Both the modes had their own merits. 

But if the opposition parties want everyone to cast their votes through secret balloting so that they could use their opinion according to their conscience then there is little justification left for them to proceed against those voting against the party policy. 

Under a Clause of Article 63-A of the Constitution a member may be disqualified in accordance with a laid-down procedure if a member of a parliamentary party votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs, in relation to­—(i) election of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister; or (ii) a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or (iii) a Money Bill or a Constitution (Amendment) Bill. 

Needless to say that a conscience vote may not necessarily be in line with the party policy. 

This being so, what is the justification for the parties to be empowered to take action against those voting against their policy.  

In the prevailing situation when, according to Federal Minister Asad Umar,  horse- trading has already started and rates are being set for the Senate votes, open vote alone can serve the ruling party’s interests.

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.