THE electoral reforms process is off to a bad start. After weeks of wrangling with the opposition, the government has proceeded to issue a presidential ordinance authorising the Election Commission of Pakistan to go ahead with the procurement of electronic voting machines. The ordinance also authorised the ECP to enable overseas Pakistanis to vote in the next elections while remaining in their country of residence.

According to a report, the information minister said the government had issued the ordinance to provide the ECP enough time to implement both these reforms before the next general elections. He also said that the government had decided to proceed with these reforms because the opposition was not interested. He argued that once the ordinance lapses, the government would be in a position to have this bill passed through parliament.

While there is no arguing that electoral reforms are crucial to make sure that the next elections are accepted as free and fair, the government is approaching the issue in the wrong way. The whole point of these reforms is to ensure that all major political stakeholders are on board, and that there is a consensus on them so that no one can object to the results of the elections. It is rather strange, and unfortunate, that the government decided to proclaim the ordinance just a few days after the speaker of the National Assembly had constituted a committee to discuss and debate these reforms. By making the process controversial and politically partisan for no substantive reason, the government is ensuring that the electoral process becomes even more divisive than it already is.

Read: Electronic voting is no silver bullet

There is a long list of proposed reforms and the two included in the ordinance are part of this list. All the items require rigorous debate. The ECP has itself expressed severe reservations on the electronic voting machines, as have the opposition parties. These reservations need to be deliberated upon instead of being brushed aside by the government. It is never too late to be sensible. The PTI government should abandon this adversarial approach to electoral reform and utilise the platform of parliament to debate each and every proposed item on the list. The mistake of issuing this ordinance can be rectified by letting it lapse. In the meantime, the opposition too should let go of its obduracy and sit down with the government to build a consensus on these reforms.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2021

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