Govt won’t unilaterally push through reforms, ECP assured

Published July 9, 2021
Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan called on Chief Election Commis­sioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to discuss the electoral reforms. — APP/File
Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan called on Chief Election Commis­sioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to discuss the electoral reforms. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: After facing severe criticism from stakeholders over the proposed electoral reforms, the government on Thursday indicated that it would not unilaterally push through amendments to the laws governing electoral processes.

Attorney General (AG) Khalid Jawed Khan called on Chief Election Commis­sioner Sikandar Sultan Raja here to discuss the electoral reforms, including the grant of voting right to overseas Pakistanis and use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in next general elections to ensure maximum transparency in those polls.

The AG assured the CEC that the government would take the Election Commis­sion of Pakistan and the political parties in confidence on the electoral reforms and the amendments to relevant law would be finalised after that process. “The federal government acknowledges and respects the independence and constitutional status of the ECP,” Mr Khan was quoted as saying.

The CEC observed that the commission would support and implement legislation passed by the parliament which ensured holding of free, fair and transparent elections. He said that the ECP supported use of technology but stressed that it must be done in a responsible manner. He warned that introduction of technology “in haste” could be counter-productive.

The CEC said that the modalities had to be worked out so that no questions were raised and no room for disputes was left at the time of the elections.

The attorney general reiterated that all stakeholders, particularly the ECP, would be taken in confidence in the matters relating to EVMs, voting by overseas Pakistanis and other amendments to the Election Act, 2017. “For this purpose consultations with stakeholders would be expedited,” he said.

The ECP had last month formally conveyed its concerns over the controversial Elections Act (Amendment) Bill that had been bulldozed in the National Assembly amid the opposition’s outcry. The commission had raised objections against 45 out of the total 72 proposed amendments in separate letters sent to the ministries of parliamentary affairs and law and justice.

A document sent to the government detailing reasons for objections said that 15 amendments were repugnant to the constitution and five inconsistent with the act itself.

As many as 17 amendments were opposed by the commission on administrative grounds. However, the ECP supported 27 amendments as these were and another eight with proposed changes.

An equally strong reaction also came from the mainstream opposition parties which accused the government of masterminding a plan to “steal” coming general elections through technology. Various civil society organisations also voiced concern over an “hasty attempt” to use a presidential ordinance to make use of EVMs mandatory in next elections, besides providing for voting rights to overseas Pakistanis through internet voting.

However, the things appear to have been changed now as a participatory process to debate the proposed amendments is to start shortly. A motion seeking formation of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms has already been adopted in the National Assembly. Sources in the opposition said names of nominated members of the committee had been given to the speaker of the National Assembly.

The committee on electoral reforms is most likely to start its work after Eidul Azha.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2021

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