Islamabad [Pakistan], March 3 (ANI): Polling for the 37 seats of Pakistan's Senate is underway via secret ballot as a total of 78 candidates are contesting from the federal capital and three provinces - Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
According to Dawn, the first vote in the National Assembly was cast by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) Shafiq Arain while the second one was cast by federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser and Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif are among those who have cast their votes for the elections of Pakistan's Upper House.
The polling began at 9 am today and will continue till 5 pm without any break. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) staff reached the Parliament House in Islamabad early morning on Wednesday to initiate proceedings of the elections.
Polling is also underway in provincial assemblies, except Punjab, where all Senate candidates were elected unopposed last month after disqualification or withdrawal of papers by other contestants.
The polls are being held after a long-drawn open ballot controversy, after President Arif Alvi had signed the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 to pave the way for Senate elections to be held via an "open and identifiable ballot".
The controversy kept the ruling and opposition in a war of words and a legal battle before the Supreme Court on Monday announced that the polls for the Upper House of Parliament will be held through secret ballot, according to Article 226 of the Constitution.
While the ruling PTI's numerical strength in the Senate is expected to almost double from the existing 14 seats, the fiercest contest is expected between former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is contesting as a joint candidate of the 11-party opposition alliance - Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), and Hafeez Sheikh, Adviser to PM Imran Khan on Finance, Dawn reported.
The contest became even more controversial after a video emerged where Gilani's son, Ali Haider, was seen explaining to lawmakers how to cancel their votes. This led to PTI demanding that the ECP declare Gilani ineligible after the emergence of the video that it said showed "votes being bought".
Speaking to media in Islamabad, Ali Haider accepted that he was in the leaked video, but denied he was engaging in a deal to buy votes for his father. "I think I have done nothing wrong; my conscience is satisfied," he said.
In 2021, 52 senators, who were elected in 2015, are set to retire. The other 52 were elected in 2018 and will retire in 2024. However, elections are being held only on 48 seats this time after erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were merged with KP, Dawn reported.
Therefore, the Senate will now comprise 100 lawmakers; 23 each from all the provinces and four from Islamabad. The remaining four senators from FATA will retire in 2024.
The ECP, in its code of conduct, had barred President Alvi and the governors of all the provinces from taking part in the election campaigns.
Out of 78 candidates, 14 are from the PTI, 13 from the PPP, two from the PML-N, two from MQM-P, 11 from BAP and one from TLP. In addition to this, three candidates will be contesting as independents. (ANI)