Govt decides to begin debate on electoral reforms in NA

Published May 19, 2021
This file photo shows Prime Minister Imran Khan (right) and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan. — Photo courtesy APP/AP
This file photo shows Prime Minister Imran Khan (right) and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan. — Photo courtesy APP/AP

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tues­day decided to initiate the process of electoral reforms by tabling the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Report 2019-20 in the National Assembly for starting a debate on it from May 24 even if the opposition abstains.

At the cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the controversial Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) project also came under discussion and the premier expressed displeasure why Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan spoke to the press on the matter.

The cabinet members were apprised of the official visit of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to the Muslim states before his address at the UN General Assembly where he would convey the prevailing grief and anger in the Muslim world against Israel over the killing of innocent Palestinians.

While sharing details of the electoral reforms move with the media following the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said: “The government is going to present the ECP Report 2019-20 in the parliament as the proposed electoral reforms are crucial for free and fair elections. We will start debate from Monday even if the opposition does not take part in it.”

Imran expresses displeasure over aviation minister’s presser about ring road scam

The minister said the government had already promulgated an ordinance to enable the ECP to use the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the next general elections. “This week National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs would invite the parliamentary reporters and leaders for examining the EVMs. It would help them understand as to how those gadgets would prove effective in preventing rigging in the elections in future,” he added.

After the 2018 general elections, Mr Chaudhry said, the opposition had blamed the collapse of Result Transmission System (RTS) for their defeat but later they accused officials of some institution of issuing voting slips in some areas and finally they claimed non-availability of Form-46 led to their defeat in the elections. Yet the opposite maintained there was no need for electoral reforms claiming that only pre-poll rigging had taken place in the general elections, the minister said.

He asked the opposition to clear its position whether it wanted to give a right of vote to overseas Pakistanis or not.

Recalling the controversies related to the by-polls in Daska and Karachi held in recent months, Mr Chaudhry termed the e-voting system an ultimate solution to ensure transparent elections in the country. He said it would help announce election result of a constituency in 20 minutes after polling.

The minister said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had never come to power through transparent elections, as the apex court in 1990 had declared that the party had done systematic rigging to win the elections. The PML-N did not believe in electoral reforms as the party realized they could not come into the power without rigging.

Qureshi’s visit to US

Talking about the Palestine issue, the minister expressed the hope that all Muslim nations raise a unanimous voice for the Palestine issue at the UN General Assembly session.

He said the cabinet was briefed that Mr Qureshi was in Ankara from where he would leave for New York along with Turkish, Sudanese and Palestinian foreign ministers. He would speak at UNGA debate on “The situation in the Middle East” and the “Question of Palestine” on May 20, the minister said, adding that the entire nation would express solidarity with the Palestinians by observing Palestine Day on Friday (May 21).

Ring road scam

It was learnt that the prime minister during the cabinet meeting asked Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan why he had held a press conference when he had not been mentioned as being an accused or a beneficiary of the ring road realignment in the fact-finding report.

The PM told him that he could respond to allegations on social media when Mr Sarwar said he was being maligned in the media. As Mr Khan mentioned that the Punjab government had referred the case to Anti-Corruption Department, the aviation minister raised objection over the terms of reference of the anti-graft department’s inquiry committee. Mr Sarwar questioned why the NOC issue of a private housing society given by the Civil Aviation Authority (CCA) had been included in the TORs.

In reply to a question, the information minister said Mr Sarwar had already cleared his position over the Rawalpindi Ring Road project at the press conference as well as in the federal cabinet meeting.

Talking about PML-N leader Ishaq Dar, Mr Chaudhry said an ordinance would be promulgated soon to make it mandatory for members of parliament to be sworn in within six months of their election, as “PML-N leader Ishaq Dar is still at large and did not take oath in the Senate even after the passage of three years”.

The cabinet was told that the number of mobile users had increased to 184 million in April 2021, whereas the broadband users had touched the 100 millions benchmark.

Mr Chaudhry said Rs 1,100 billion was spent in rural economy. Sale of tractors had gone up by 55 per cent. The government was issuing ‘Kissan card’ for the uplift of the agriculture sector and welfare of farmers. The agriculture ministry was bringing a new proposal, aimed at revolutionising the agriculture sector by spending Rs110bn. “It is also meant to enhance milk production five-fold by revolutionizing the livestock sector,” he added.

About the cases against PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif, the minister said both the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the judiciary were fully independent and the government was supposed to facilitate them. He said some media anchors had played a role in creating an environment to help Nawaz Sharif escape abroad on medical ground.

He said talks were on with the British authorities to ease Covid-related quarantine restrictions for the overseas Pakistanis. The foreign office also took up the issue of travel restrictions on Pakistanis with the Saudi government, he added.

Regarding the Kashmir issue, the minister said Mr Khan had a clear stance that if India wanted dialogue it would have to take back unilateral action of August 5, 2019. “Pakistanis’ hearts beat with those of their Kashmiri brothers and the country will continue to extend political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiris,” he said.

The cabinet also sent a summary about relaxation in Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules for Kartarpur Sahab shrine to its board, he said.

The minister said the cabinet had given green light for transshipment of a container of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan from Karachi to Kabul. He said the cabinet approved the regular public transport licence to Ms/ Fly Jinnah Services (private) Ltd.

He said it gave approval for issuing a commemorative coin to celebrate the 70 years of Pakistan-China relations. The Peoples Bank of China would also issue two commemorative coins, one of gold and other of silver, to commemorate the everlasting friendship between the two countries, he added.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2021

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