THE Election Commission of Pakistan has expressed serious reservations about the electoral reforms bill bulldozed through the National Assembly by the government last week and has termed many of the amendments in the bill in violation of the Constitution. In a rare move, the ECP publicised a meeting it held on the bill and detailed its objections in a press release. It also compiled a document — reported in detail by this newspaper — that gave feedback on each amendment of the bill. The ECP said it had communicated its objections to the parliamentary committee deliberating on the bill but these objections were not factored into the text that was adopted by the National Assembly. The opposition too has rejected the bill.
Some of the objections raised by the ECP should elicit deep concern among all stakeholders. The commission says the electronic voting machines require a thorough debate in parliament in light of the pilot project conducted by it. This debate has yet to happen. There are many issues with the EVMs that remain unaddressed and therefore the commission cannot guarantee their usage will lead to the holding of free and fair elections. It has similar objections to the right of vote for overseas Pakistanis and also a genuine concern regarding the amendments that will take powers away from the ECP and hand them over to Nadra. It is clear from these and various other reservations that insufficient thought has gone into the contents of the bill.
The government should have consulted the ECP before drafting it so that all the concerns that the commission had could have been addressed. The opposition too was not taken on board for a detailed debate before bringing the bill for voting. Such shoddy handling of this crucial bill by the government has generated needless controversy at a time when electoral reforms require a buy-in from all political parties. The amendments also suggest that the government is pushing its own priorities, without allowing other stakeholders to point out the obvious weaknesses. The end result, therefore, will be the opposite of what the intended result was supposed to be — a law that helps built trust among all parties on the electoral process.
There is still time to rectify the matter. The government should now invite the opposition as well as the ECP to give its detailed input on the basis of which a thorough debate should take place. The aim should be to build a consensus and make amendments in the bill accordingly before it can be finalised for voting. Reforming the electoral process is vital for Pakistan, and doing so by taking everyone on board is equally important. There is time available so there is no need to rush into it. Hopefully, the government can rise beyond its partisan approach and do the right thing.
Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2021