ISLAMABAD: Claiming to have majority in the parliament, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has vowed to get the legislation on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and I-voting for the overseas Pakistanis passed by the end of this year without opposition’s support.
In a related development, President Dr Arif Alvi signed another ordinance making it binding upon the elected members to take oath as legislator within sixty days.
“I want to give good news to the nation. Insha Allah (God willing) the legislative process which we have started regarding the EVMs and the I-voting for the overseas Pakistanis will be completed within the year 2021 through the Senate or even the joint sitting of the parliament,” declared Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan while speaking at a news conference with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Political Communication Shehbaz Gill here on Wednesday.
Mr Awan said the bill seeking amendments to the Elections Act 2017 regarding the use of EVMs and I-voting that had already been passed by the National Assembly was currently being reviewed by the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. As per Constitution, he said, the committee had time till Sept 14 to clear the bill.
President promulgates ordinance to bind parliamentarians to take oath within 60 days of the maiden session of legislature
The Senate parliamentary affairs committee is headed by opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Taj Haider who last month announced that he would not hold the committee’s meeting until the withdrawal of the ‘illegal’ notification by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, barring the committee from summoning officials of other than the relevant ministries.
Under the Constitution, if a bill passed by one house is not passed by the other house within 90 days, then through a motion, it is referred to the joint sitting of the two houses of the parliament. Since the PTI and its allies do not have a clear majority in the Senate, therefore, the government is now planning to get the election amendment bill passed from the joint sitting of the parliament as it did in the case of the legislations regarding the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) last year.
Mr Awan said the general elections in 2023 would be held in a transparent and fair manner and the government would fully cooperate with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the purpose. He said the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had sought Rs2.2 billion for providing technical support for I-voting. He said the government would ensure all available resources for conduct of free and fair elections.
Criticising the opposition for their refusal to hold talks with the government on the EVMs, Mr Awan alleged that the opposition parties were only interested in stopping the accountability process and closing down the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The adviser urged the opposition to show political wisdom and stand with the government for ensuring transparent elections. He regretted that the ministers and even Prime Minister Imran Khan had invited the opposition several times, but they received no positive response.
Mr Awan alleged that opposition was committing contempt of court by opposing the government move to grant the right of vote to the overseas Pakistanis. He recalled that the Supreme Court’s full bench in its verdict had declared that every Pakistani, whether living in the country or abroad, had equal fundamental rights.
The adviser said the opposition was making hue and cry over the introduction of EVMs before its use. He recalled that the opposition had raised slogans in the ECP favour when they won the Daska elections whereas whenever they lost the elections they started targeting the ECP. He also asked the opposition not to make the cantonment boards controversial by crying foul over the upcoming elections on September 12.
Referring to the reservations shown by the opposition about the use of EVMs, he said the machines had not been prepared by the government. He said public would be given demonstrations of this prototype machine through road shows being planned by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Responding to a question, Mr Awan said the government did not require any constitutional amendment for the use of EVMs or I-voting. He, however, said that they would require a constitutional amendment for allowing the dual nationals to contest the general elections in the country.
Mr Awan disclosed that he had given a briefing to the federal cabinet on August 31 on the Supreme Court verdict in a case related to general elections held in 2013 after which Nawaz Sharif had become the prime minister. He alleged that the 2013 elections were rigged as 35 per cent “Form 15 in Punjab and mostly throughout Pakistan” were found missing as per the report written by three SC judges. He alleged that a printing press was hired only days before the elections. More than 92,000 thumb impressions could not be verified, he added.
Speaking on the occasion, SAPM Shehbaz Gill alleged that PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif had been playing a double game on the issue of EVMs. The SAPM alleged that Mr Sharif had established behind the scene contact with the government and had expressed the willingness to support the EVMs, if cases against him and his son, Hamza Shehbaz, were withdrawn.
Mr Gill advised Mr Sharif to resign from the position of party president when the PML-N had rejected his idea regarding the formation of a national government. He said it was strange that a party office-bearer had termed the statement of the party president as his ‘personal’.
President Dr Arif Alvi on Wednesday signed the Election Ordinance (Third Amendment) 2021, binding the elected members to take oath within 60 days of the commencement of first sitting of the maiden session of a legislature.
The amendment has been made to Section 72 of the Election Act 2017.
According to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan, under the amendment, the members will have to take oath within 40 days of the promulgation of this ordinance.
“In case of failure to take oath within the mandatory period, seats of elected members to Senate, assembly and local government will become vacant,” it said.
Since no official text of the ordinance is available, it is believed that the ordinance provides 40 days time to those members who have not taken the oath since 2018 after winning the elections.
Former finance minister Ishaq Dar is the only lawmaker who has so far not taken oath as senator after winning the elections in March 2018. Mr Dar is also facing NAB references and is presently living in self-exile in London with party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif
During the press conference when a reporter asked if the government had promulgated this ordinance to de-seat Ishaq Dar, the adviser to the PM on parliamentary affairs, said the rules were already there to de-seat any member, if he remained absent from the proceedings without any intimation. He, however, said they were not using those rules. He said they had brought this ordinance in line with the SC verdict in the Javed Hashmi case in which the court had declared that no constituency could be left unrepresented for an indefinite period.
PML-N dissident Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had recently taken oath as member of the Punjab Assembly while PML-N’s Dar had been declared absconder by the court, he remarked.
The president also signed Pakistan Council of Research for Water Resources (Amendment) Ordinance 2021. The amendment was made under Section 16 of the Act 2007, adds APP.
The council would make appointments for the better performance and discharge of duties of the institute. It was also given the power to hire services of advisers and experts on a contract basis.
The president approved a summary regarding the appointment of Mohammad Saeedullah on deputation as judge of the accountability court, Rawalpindi. He also granted his consent on a summary regarding initiation of proceedings against Khawaja Shaukat Hussain, a grade 20 officer in National School of Public Policy, under Civil Servant (E&D) Rules 2020.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2021