Govt warms to idea of bipartisan panel for electoral reforms

Published March 16, 2021
This file photo shows Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter/File
This file photo shows Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter/File

ISLAMABAD: A day after inviting opposition parties for talks and asking it to take back its decision of long march, the government on Monday showed its intention to form a bipartisan parliamentary committee under National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to bring constitutional and electoral reforms in the country.

The consensus on the formation of a parliamentary committee to bring about constitutional and electoral reforms was reached between the speaker and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan during their meeting, says an official handout issued by the National Assembly Secretariat.

“The formation of a parliamentary committee to bring constitutional and electoral reforms came under discussion during the meeting. It was agreed that equal representation would be given to members of both the opposition and the government for their input for electoral reforms. This committee will also give input about bringing constitutional amendment to give Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) the status of an interim province,” the handout said.

Move comes a day before PDM discusses long march, resignations

The government’s move has come a day before a crucial meeting of the heads of the constituent parties of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in Islamabad on Tuesday which has been convened to discuss the opposition’s strategy for the upcoming long march and the proposed en masse resignations from assemblies.

During the meeting, Speaker Asad Qaiser said that transparency and fairness in elections, especially in the Senate elections, would revive the public trust in the electoral process and their representatives.

He remarked that consensus of both government and opposition benches, was imperative for bringing electoral reforms.

Mr Awan said that electoral reforms and making the GB an interim province would strengthen democratic norms in the country. He also proposed that the parliamentary committee be chaired by the speaker. He suggested that the committee should also deliberate upon pending electoral reform bill.

During a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice on March 10 which had been convened to take up the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the opposition had declared that since Mr Babar Awan was an adviser to the prime minister, he had no capacity to move the bill as only a minister, as defined in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, had the capacity to move a government bill.

The committee members were of the view that the bill should be referred to a parliamentary committee for a consensus as the constitutional amendments could not be carried out without the cooperation of the opposition.

Later in the evening, PML-N’s Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha in a news conference accused the government of committing contempt of court by introducing legislation in the parliament through an unelected adviser.

Mr Ranjha said that the Islamabad High Court had in its verdict in the case of Abdul Hafeez Shaikh declared that special assistants to the prime minister and advisers could not officiate as federal ministers and they were given the status of ministers only to enjoy perks and privileges.

The PML-N lawmaker was of the view that Mr Awan could not sign the “Objects and Reasons” section of the government bills in the light of the court’s verdict and all those bills tabled by the adviser were unconstitutional and illegal.

He said that the opposition parties in their recent meeting of the PDM had decided to move a resolution in the National Assembly, asking the speaker to constitute a parliamentary committee comprising MNAs and senators to discuss election reforms to make future elections transparent and non-controversial.

Asked why on the one hand the opposition was not ready to hold dialogue with the government and, on the other, it wanted formation of a parliamentary committee through the National Assembly speaker, Mr Ranjha said election was a serious issue and they were ready to discuss it irrespective of who was ruling the country as it was necessary to end the culture of rigging allegations after every election.

Sources in the PML-N said that the opposition could agree on participation in the parliamentary committee but not under the speaker as they had already decided to boycott the committees under him due to his biased conduct in the assembly proceedings. The opposition parties had already previously boycotted at least four meetings of various committees under Mr Qaiser.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2021

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