ISLAMABAD: Following Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s attempt to pacify angry opposition which suffered an unexpected defeat in recent elections for Senate chairman and deputy chairman, Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to engage the opposition by forming a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms to establish a credible and transparent electoral system in the country.

In a letter written to the NA speaker, the prime minister said that “filthy business of sale-purchase of votes” was also observed in the Senate polls.

“We [the government] have submitted a bill for meaningful electoral reforms to remove the prevailing stigma attached to our electoral process. I would request you to immediately form an inter-party parliamentary committee to discuss these reforms and come to an agreement on how to introduce best practices, including the use of technology and introduction of electronic voting machines, to strengthen our electoral system and democracy,” said the letter.

Meanwhile, the main opposition PML-N gave a mixed reaction to the PM Khan’s suggestion and said the party would first see the terms of reference of the proposed committee and the intention of the government on the matter and then decide whether to join the panel or not.

PML-N gives mixed response to proposal

“I would also suggest a definite time frame for reaching agreement on all these issues that have marred the transparency of our elections so that enough time is given to institute the required reforms before the next general election. It is in the interest of democracy in Pakistan to establish a credible and transparent electoral system and put an end to all venues that allow corrupt practices that are eroding our parliamentary democracy,” the prime minister said in the latter.

“The recent Senate elections have highlighted once again the scourge of vote purchasing in the prevailing non-transparent manner of conducting elections. I have always demanded electoral reforms to ensure transparent, fair and free elections at all levels.

“My party and I asked for open ballots to ensure transparency and fairness given how Senate elections had achieved notoriety as being a major market for purchase of votes. We intr­oduced a bill in the National Assembly and went to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court in its judgement asked the ECP to ensure transparent, fair and free elections and stated that secrecy of the ballot was not absolute. Unfortunately, the ECP paid no heed to the SC judgement and failed to ensure fair and free Senate elections,” the prime minister said.

He said the malaise of prevailing electoral system, including but not limited to free flow of money to purchase votes, had been the subject of criticism after all elections with losers declaring the polls as having been rigged.

When contacted, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said his party could consider joining the parliamentary committee if it would have a holistic and comprehensive agenda. However, he said: “We will not endorse their [the government’s] digitalised rigging.”

Another senior PML-N leader, Sha­hid Khaqan Abbasi, wondered at a press conference how the NA speaker would constitute a parliamentary committee as he had lost his credibility.

Fawad Chaudhry in his Wednesday’s tweet extended an olive branch to the opposition, asking it to shun differences and at least sit together for electoral reforms. He hailed the opposition’s decision to call off its long march against the government and said now it should take a step forward and initiate a process of dialogue for electoral reforms.

However, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb rejected the offer and said the opposition could not sit with the government.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2021

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