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ECP probes horse trading: need for discipline or reform?

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News Analysis |

A number of politicians and representatives of different parties were invited by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to probe into the alleged horse-trading and bribing for the purchase of votes in the 3rd March Senate elections. The investigation was started by the ECP on 6th March and the relevant persons were summoned on 14th March to submit proof before the commission. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Sardar Mohammad Raza presided over the hearing.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs Engineer Amir Muqam, leaders of two factions of the MQM-P Dr Farooq Sattar and Khawaja Izharul Hassan, Pak Sarzameen Party’s (PSP) Raza Haroon, MNA from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Shahabuddin and PML-N MPA from Punjab Uzma Bokhari were summoned by the ECP for issuing statements questioning the transparency of the elections.

Rather than indirect elections through secret ballot, either the secret ballot should be removed from the elections or the senators should be elected in a direct way by the people of Pakistan.

Other than the PTI chief Imran Khan and the MQM-P chief Farooq Sattar, all representatives were present during the hearing. The first two were represented by their lawyers. The MQM-P submitted a list of 6 MPAs who allegedly sold their votes but they failed to provide any concrete evidence for it. Other political parties also failed to provide any solid evidence to which the CEC replied that the party leaders should help them identify their defected members who engaged in horse trading. “Selling and buying of votes is a crime. We want you to help us,” the CEC said and adjourned the hearing till 4th April.

Read more: Will ECP unearth PPP’s magic formula used in controversial Senate Elections?

Imran Khan was represented by his counsel Shahid Gondal who apprised the commission that the PTI had already constituted a committee to probe into horse trading within the party. He further told them that the names of the MPAs who voted against the party will be submitted to the ECP after investigation. PML-N leader Uzma Bukhari accused the PTI of buying votes in Punjab to get their candidate elected to which the CEC responded that they will do whatever they can but that they would require the cooperation of the parties.

Are Members Obliged to Vote for their Parties?

Senate elections are held through a secret ballot means that the identity of the voter is hidden and remains anonymous till the end. However, most parties do their own calculations and make pools of MPAs to vote for a certain senator. This way, every party can identify, to some level of precision, whether a certain MPA has voted for the party candidate or not. Article 63A obliges legislators to follow the guidelines and constitution of the party even inside the legislative assemblies.

Senate elections are held through a secret ballot means that the identity of the voter is hidden and remains anonymous till the end. However, most parties do their own calculations and make pools of MPAs to vote for a certain senator.

Since voting against the party candidate counts as violation of the party constitution, a party member’s registration can be cancelled for it and subsequently their membership in the legislative assemblies. But the secret ballot in the Senate elections raises a big question. Since the ballot is secret, every member has the liberty to vote for whoever they want without party pressure.

Read more: “Withhold notifications of senators-elect believed to be dual nationals,” Chief Justice…

What can the ECP do?

Even if horse trading is proved against certain MPAs, it is highly doubtful that the ECP will be able to move against them since there is no law barring political parties to seek support from members of other political parties and they have not violated any clause of the constitution by voting for the member of an opposing party. The only way that the ECP can act is if the use of money can somehow be proved against the MPAs.

Need of the Time

Rather than hurling accusations of horse trading and bribing towards political opponents, there is a need for reform in the Senate elections. Rather than indirect elections through secret ballot, either the secret ballot should be removed from the elections or the senators should be elected in a direct way by the people of Pakistan. As long as the old voting method persists, cases of horse trading and bribing will continue.


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