The attempts to discredit the democratic process in the country are nothing new. The arbitrary forces come up with new shape of tricks to portray that democratic practices are devoid of probity and their practitioners hopelessly corrupt. The deliberate spoiling of the entire electoral process is the most potent method the arbitrary forces consistently employ to run-down the nuance of democratic governance. The same methodology became apparent during the recently held elections to the senate of Pakistan that witnessed extreme levels of skill-duggery ranging from covertly installing spy cameras to blatant horse-trading.
By employing such tactics the arbitrary forces did succeed in getting their candidate Sadiq Sanjrani elected the chairman senate along with their handpicked candidate as deputy chairman. About the newly elected deputy chairman no one has ever heard about before the election who emerged from nowhere and conveniently defeated an experienced campaigner Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri who had remained deputy chairman senate in the past. It mattered nothing that the opposition, which otherwise enjoys a clear majority in the upper house of parliament, faced the dramatic upset when it emerged that among the lawmakers who opted for its candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani, at least seven wasted their votes, a highly unlikely occurrence in wake of the simple procedure required for endorsing the ballot and voting for their candidate.
What the recent election has done is that it has furthered the crisis of credibility surrounding the Pakistani institutionalised behaviour and conduct. It has impugned restoring to such activities that smell of outright chicanery and betray a perpetual will to dominate. By interfering so blatantly the arbitrary forces have tried to draw a deep wedge between the contending political forces but the impression conveyed is just the opposite as the discerning eye can clearly see the hidden agenda. By disrupting the clearly laid down practices the malpractice resorted to have paved the way for a gruelling legal battle in which the conniving forces will be further exposed and that too in full media glare.
The highly controversial exercise and its offshoots will wreak havoc across institutions, processes, traditions and even the basic values of right and wrong. The picture that has emerged is of a polity in peril morally as well as materially. In wake of the existential confusion created by the rampant arbitrariness it is difficult to visualise how a semblance of normalcy can be returned to the national life as when the political pendulum has so vehemently swung into a state of irrationality that has made it enormously difficult for all stake-holders including the arbitrary forces to build a basic minimum working relationship. The current state of affairs has given rise to a spate of controversies that are getting bitter by the day.
The Senate elections also betray the difference of opinion within the ranks of the arbitrary forces otherwise how could the phenomenon of getting Gilani elected in the first place and then humbling him consequently be justified. It appears that the state of division has made a spectacle of an electoral exercise that was carried out in the glare of media lights right at the apex house of the state and dealt with less than hundred votes to be polled. The lack of managing such a puny exercise with spectacular lack of consensus within the ranks of arbitrary forces speaks volumes about the influence exerted by confronting belief systems within the close-end outfit. The state of affairs is indeed worrisome and unless some urgent steps are taken to frame a common understanding of how to move forward the country could be moving into unchartered territory.
Paradoxically the installation of hidden cameras and last-minute appointment of a deputy sergeant-at-arms has provided a unique opportunity to the political elements to call the bluff and make a national issue of the brazen interference in the electoral matters. By the look of it both these attempts were extraneous in nature as the baffling attitude of Sadiq Sanjrani gave away when he was interviewed immediately after getting elected by a social media channel. The political elements must ensure that the incident is thoroughly investigated as is essential for the sake of protecting the dignity of the house and their responsibility as representing the will of the nation.
Another question raised by the rumpus in the senate pertains to the validity of the ballot cast giving rise to the debate about the intention of the vote-caster. It is vehemently argued that it is the intention of the person casting a vote that counts although there are many others who have stuck to the narrow confines of procedure. The debate so sparked also relates to taking the matter into litigation that is opposed by many on the ground that any business conducted inside the two houses of parliament cannot be challenged in any court of law.
In this context many experts are of the view that since the election of Senate chairman was part of the business of upper house of parliament, therefore, the rejection of the seven ballots could not be challenged before any tribunal or court. They point out that the proceedings of the Senate were fully protected under Articles 69 and 60 of the Constitution. Article 69 says the validity of any proceedings in the parliament cannot be called into question on the grounds of irregularity of procedure. Similarly, Article 60 explains that after the Senate has been duly constituted, it will at its first meeting, and to the exclusion of any other business, elect from amongst its members a chairman and a deputy chairman. Such experts maintain that affixing stamp at a wrong place, the voters whose ballots had been rejected violated the condition of secrecy of the ballot because they made their votes identifiable.
On the other hand, many experts opine that although the Constitution barred challenging any business of the parliament, if an act was committed apparently with mala fide intentions, and no other remedy existed, then a constitutional petition can always be filed before a high court under Article 199 of the Constitution. They cite many court verdicts in favour of judicial review in this matter and it was mentioned that there were a number of judgements given by superior courts on the intention of the voters in which it had been held that the ballot could not be invalidated for technical reasons.
It was specifically pointed out that one judgement of the Supreme Court in 1987 observed that the cardinal rule to be followed by election officers and the courts in election matters was to ascertain the intent of the voter as disclosed by the official ballot actually cast and to give effect to that intent by counting the ballot. There is another case pertaining to the Election Commission it was held that unless there was something to show a previous arrangement, the mere presence of a mark or for the matter of that the currency note on a ballot paper was not sufficient to identify the electors. The existence of a mark in the absence of a proof of arrangement did not identify the voter. It was also stated that the many verdicts explained that before rejection of such papers it had to be pleaded firstly and then proved through evidence that the same was the result of prior understanding between such voter and the candidate. There is hence clear evidence of instigate litigation in this respect and give it wide publicity so that manipulative practices are stopped. TW