• Sherry accuses govt of trying to prepare ground for pre-poll rigging
• Minister says opposition failed to give any proposal to ensure transparency in electoral process
• Sarwar hopes EU’s restrictions on PIA to be lifted this year
ISLAMABAD: The war of words between the government and opposition over introduction of electronic voting machines (EVM) continued in the Senate on Friday, with the treasury members terming EVMs inevitable for holding transparent elections while the opposition calling them ‘rigging machines’.
A debate on EVMs started after Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, while winding up discussion on President Dr Arif Alvi’s address to the joint sitting of parliament, chided the opposition for picking holes in the ideas of voting machines and Senate elections through a show of hands.
“EVM is the way forward,” he said, criticising the opposition for failing to give any suggestions to ensure more transparency in the electoral process and choosing to reject every suggestion coming from the government side.
He also referred to the recent visit of a Senate delegation to Russia to observe polls, pointing out that the country had put in use technology in the elections.
The state minister praised Prime Minister Imran Khan for his Afghan policy and said he had made it clear that Pakistan would be a partner in peace and not war.
He claimed that there was an agricultural boom in the country and said a bumper wheat crop this year had set a new record.
In an instant retort, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman accused the government of trying to prepare grounds for pre-poll rigging.
She slammed the ministers for their onslaught on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and regretted that threats had also been hurled at the commission after it took a realistic position on the EVMs.
She criticised the government for painting a bizarrely inaccurate picture of the unprecedented and harsh ground reality, saying, “we are facing a terrible economic crisis in real terms on the ground with spiralling food prices but here we are told Pakistani agriculture is booming”.
She said there was no respite in sight for the average citizen whose disposable income had shrunk alarmingly, lamenting that the government was only focused on waging a “narrative” war.
Ms Rehman said it was for the first time in the country’s history that wheat was being imported at a shocking $383.50 per tonne. “For a country which was once self-sufficient in wheat production during PPP’s government, it’s a shame that we are importing it now and that too at such exorbitant rates,” the senator said.
“Unfortunately, under the current government, Pakistan’s food trade balance has soared to a whopping negative -$3,965 million, mainly due to sugar and wheat imports. So, why is the PTI government celebrating a wheat boom,” she questioned while discussing the costly wheat import.
Highlighting the importance of a joint session on Afghanistan, Senator Rehman said: “There is a humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan. What is our strategy for the spillover in Pakistan? A unified position could help Pakistan effectively tackle challenges that could arise because of the evolving situation in Afghanistan as what happens in Afghanistan does not stay in Afghanistan. It blows back into Pakistan.”
She further said the British parliament met immediately on this issue, as did the US Congress.
“So where was Pakistan’s parliament amidst all this,” she said, adding that a joint session to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan is the need of the hour, but unfortunately this government only holds sessions to bulldoze bills, unlike the PPP government.
Discussing PIA’s abysmal performance, Ms Rehman said: “We have been told in a Public Accounts Committee meeting that from November, PIA will not be getting bridges to board passengers, nor will it be able to get power supply for the aircraft because CAA has decided to stop the provisions of airport services to the airline owing to non-payment of dues.” “Ironically, in the same meeting we are told that PIA is making a profit. Why is it that only the government can see the profit? I hope the cost cuts are reviewed and facilities are not cut off. As if the EU ban on PIA was not enough, now passengers will also have to suffer through this,” she continued.
“Instead of making life difficult for people, let them breathe freely. PTI government has been ignoring the signs of a crumbling economy only to boost its image and take credit for projects which they have not even initiated, like the BISP which the PPP had introduced and implemented,” the senator said, adding that the economy was on a ventilator and the government needed to start taking responsibility.
Defending the idea of introducing EVMs in the next general elections, Leader of the House in the Senate Dr Shahzad Wasim said: “We cannot make advancement without technology. It is necessary for transparency.”
About talks of the risks of hacking, he said it was just like avoiding driving a car in fear of an accident.
He said the government was committed to making voting process simple and transparent, adding that it also desired to make overseas Pakistanis part of the electoral process by voting from the countries of their residence through the I-voting system.
He asked the opposition parties to put forth constructive proposals to make the system more transparent, instead of blindly opposing technology.
Dr Wasim said the country produced a record 21.3 million tonnes of wheat, but it had to import more to meet the gap as consumption of the commodity was estimated to be 29.5m tonnes due to increase in population.
Senator Faisal Javed of the PTI also termed the use of EVMs in the next elections inevitable.
It was the parliament’s right to legislate and the ECP’s job to conduct free, fair and transparent polls under the law, he added.
PML’s Saadia Abbasi alleged that 2018 general elections had been stolen, asking, “how can we trust a technology, the control of which is in your hands?”
Earlier, during the Question Hour, Minister for Aviation Division Ghulam Sarwar Khan hoped that the European Union’s restrictions on PIA would be lifted this year.
In July 2020, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had suspended the third country operator authorisation of the national flag carrier to operate flights in the EU member states due to safety concerns.
The minister said all reservations of the agency had been addressed and its audit team would visit Pakistan in November.
He told the Senate that the incumbent government had inherited PIA, which was facing huge financial losses.
However, the government managed to drastically cut down the loss from Rs67.32 billion to Rs34.64bn in the last three years, he added.
Replying to various supplementary questions during the Question Hour, Mr Khan said PIA’s financial losses were Rs67.32bn in 2018, which were reduced to Rs52.6bn in 2019 and Rs34.64bn in 2020.
He said various commercially unviable routes, both domestic and international, were closed to curtail the losses.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2021