SC gives Sindh week’s time to submit reply in Senate polls reference

By: News Desk      Published: 03:21 PM, 11 Jan, 2021
SC gives Sindh week’s time to submit reply in Senate polls reference

The Supreme Court has granted a week’s time to the Sindh government to file its reply in the presidential reference on holding Senate elections through an open ballot, reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

The apex court also approved PPP leader and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani’s plea to become a party in the case.

The five-judge Supreme Court larger bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed adjourned the hearing until Wednesday.

During the proceedings, the Sindh government asked for a week’s time to submit its reply. The Sindh advocate-general told the Supreme Court that the province wants to submit its written reply in the case. 

Nodding to the Sindh government’s request, the Chief Justice asked which elections are held under the Constitution. The Attorney General of Pakistan said such elections will be held as per law if the mechanism for holding them is not available in the Constitution.

The Chief Justice remarked that the elections of the prime minister and the chief ministers have nothing to do with the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The AGP said “Where the Constitution called for elections it also provides the mechanism. Senate elections are also mentioned in the Constitution but it does not give a clear mechanism for holding them. Article 226 calls for holding Senate elections.”

Justice Ijazul Hassan maintained that Election Act 2017 was unanimously enacted which calls for holding Senate elections through secret voting.

There were laughters in the courtroom when the Chief Justice remarked in a lighter vein whether the Sindh government’s reply will be ‘sweet’.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s lawyer opposed open ballot voting, saying the presidential reference is not maintainable. Kamran Murtaza, the lawyer, asked for time to submit a written reply.

The AGP also told the court that there was no legal bar if anyone wants to contest the Senate elections independently.

“We will read the written replies of the respondents and not listen to the verbal arguments of everyone,” said the top judge. 

Attorney-General of Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan filed the presidential reference on December 23 asking for the top court’s opinion on the open voting. 

The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) governments have supported the holding of Senate elections through the open balloting and requested the Supreme Court to give its opinion on the subject.

In pursuance of a court order, the two provincial governments have filed their written synopses in the presidential reference seeking its opinion whether the Senate polls should be held through the open balloting or secret vote.

The controversy surrounding the Senate elections started when on December 15, the PTI government decided to hold the elections in February, instead of March. Following this, a debate was stirred in the cabinet regarding whether the government had the constitutional right to change the election date.

The federal government had also decided to hold the Senate election through a show of hands. The decision was made during a meeting of the federal cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

On December 22 the Election Commission clarified that Senate elections 2021 will not be held before February 10.

Various statements were issued over the Senate elections and certain opinions were expressed over the authority of the ECP, which created the ambiguity, a statement by the ECP stated.

“Till now, the commission had issued no statement, but now it feels there is a need to provide legal and constitutional clarity over the matter.”

The commission said half the Senate members will retire on March 11, 2021 after completing their term. It pointed out that under Article 224(3) of the Constitution, the elections “shall be held not earlier than 30 days immediately preceding the day on which the vacancies are due to occur”.

Senate elections are held every three years and only the commission has the authority to organise them. The process is, however, spread over phases and takes roughly a month to conclude.