ISLAMABAD: The beleaguered government on Wednesday put off Thursday’s joint session of parliament within 24 hours of its summoning after struggling to ensure the presence of required number of members and due to reservations shown by its allies over the proposed electoral reforms bills regarding the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and introduction of I-voting for overseas Pakistanis in the next polls.
The announcement about the postponement of joint session came from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry through a tweet hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a meeting of parliamentarians belonging to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and allied parties, which was attended by over 150 members. The PM asked the lawmakers to participate in the legislation business considering it a jihad.
“Electoral reforms is an issue linked to the country’s future. We are working in good faith to reach a consensus (with the opposition) on this issue,” said the information minister, adding National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had been asked to contact the opposition again so that they could move the poll reforms bills with consensus.
Opposition claims govt ‘ran away’ because of its successful strategy
“We hope that the opposition will seriously consider these crucial reforms so that we can come up with a strategy for the country’s future,” he said. “The joint session of the parliament has been deferred for this purpose.”
He declared that the government would not take back steps on poll reforms, even if they did not reach a consensus on it.
On the other hand, the opposition claimed that the government had “run away” from the joint sitting due to the successful strategy adopted by the joint opposition to ensure presence of its members in Islamabad and due to its contacts with the government allies.
On Tuesday, the government had twice faced defeat at the hands of the opposition in the National Assembly during voting on motions seeking introduction of two bills. The opposition first defeated the government with a 117-104 vote on a motion tabled by a PML-N lawmaker to seek permission to introduce a private member’s bill aimed at preventing politicians from changing their parties and then again on a similar motion that had been moved by PTI’s Asma Qadeer to move her private member’s bill regarding women’s protection.
Taking the floor after announcement of the result of the vote by the chair, PML-N stalwart Ayaz Sadiq termed it a “moral victory” of the opposition and asked the prime minister to resign on moral grounds.
Talking to Dawn, Fawad Chaudhry said the joint sitting was called off at the request of coalition partners. He said the coalition partners had urged the PM to give them a chance so that they could engage the opposition to seek its support for the legislation.
The minister said soon after the premier’s address at the luncheon meeting, the leaders of allied parties met him and advised for postponement of the joint sitting.
“The PM agreed and gave a green signal to the coalition partners to hold talks with the opposition,” he added.
However, another senior member of the cabinet told Dawn that PML-Q had sought some time for in-house consultation on the issue of EVM, saying they had certain reservations over the move.
The sources said the allies in their meeting with the PM had complained that they were not consulted on the reform issue and before convening the joint session.
Talking to media after hosting a dinner for members of the joint opposition at Parliament House, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the opposition’s contacts with the government allies had forced the PTI to cancel the joint session.
He said opposition members succeeded in convincing the allies about dangerous consequences of unilateral electoral reforms regarding the use of EVMs and the government’s efforts to make the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) controversial.
He said the combined opposition had decided that no party would individually hold talks with the government if it was approached and the opposition would make a joint decision. He said a steering committee of the opposition would be formed to devise a strategy in this regard.
The PPP chairman said that notification regarding the summoning of joint session by the president had been issued in Wednesday afternoon and within half an hour they came to know that the government had postponed the joint sitting.
“This is an insult to the president’s office,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.
He said their strategy to contact the PTI’s allies and convince them of “our perspective on the EVM, policy of unilateral reforms and the government’s efforts to harm the electoral process worked”.
“We are getting good results from the unity of opposition in the parliament,” he said, adding the government was defeated in the National Assembly on Tuesday and again on Wednesday when it ran away from the joint session.
In response to a question about the PM’s appearance before the Supreme Court, he said “these are the signs of change as the Ladla (favourite) is now facing the SC”.
Earlier, while speaking at the reception, Mr Bhutto-Zardari praised Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif for his efforts to unite the opposition within the parliament. He said that only the parliament was the forum which could be used to defeat Imran Khan and his policies.
“We can defeat the government in parliament and within the system. Everyone can see that the government’s countdown has begun,” he said.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif while talking to reporters said the adjournment of the joint session meant the government had been beaten on the black laws it sought to bulldoze through the parliament. He said Imran Khan should resign after it was exposed that he had lost the trust of PTI members and allies.
By postponing the joint meeting, he said, Mr Khan had upheld his tradition of taking U-turns.
“The hasty convening of joint meeting and then the hasty adjournment show the seriousness of the government that has made sensitive and serious issues like legislation a child’s play,” he said.
Meanwhile, while responding to the information minister’s tweet, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb wrote on Twitter “And Imran sahab runs away”. In a subsequent tweet, she called on the minister to speak the truth which was that the government didn’t have the numbers for the joint session.
“Forget their allies, their own lawmakers are not ready to vote for them,” she claimed.
“Did you remember to talk to the opposition for a consensus after calling the joint session?” she asked.
Earlier, PM Khan while speaking to the treasury members, including the allies, at the luncheon reception urged them to keep striving for the introduction of EVMs, saying their use was “not for vested interests, but a step towards free and fair general elections”.
“The beneficiaries of the corrupt system will, however, oppose the electoral reforms by any means for their vested interests,” said Mr Khan.
He urged the parliamentarians to make the government’s move successful, considering it a jihad against corruption.
“The objective of the electoral reforms is to uphold the spirit of democracy and give the coming generations a system based on the morality of truth and honesty,” he said.
He said that the practice of bribery witnessed in Senate polls was a shameful act on part of politicians, who opposed the proposal of an open ballot but quashed morality for vested interests.
“Until we lift our moral values, we cannot progress. No nation could ever become a great nation if it lacks a fair justice system,” he said.
The premier also called out the ECP for “hatching propaganda” against the use of EVMs. He recalled that videos of the recent Senate elections showed some members were openly receiving bribes.
“But, neither the ECP did something nor the government.”
Mr Khan said his government decided to introduce EVMs after deliberations to do away with systematic manipulations prevalent in the election process for decades.
Earlier, the PM held separate meetings with members of National Assembly and discussed with them the ongoing legislative process, political situation and development projects.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2021