THESE past few weeks have been quite rough for the government. But no instance has been as embarrassing as the refusal of its allies — the PML-Q, MQM and GDA — to back the controversial electoral reforms bills, forcing the government to postpone a joint sitting of parliament.
The session had been convened for today to obtain parliamentary endorsement for using EVMs and giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote online. The announcement calling off the sitting came an hour or so after the prime minister’s address to PTI lawmakers and allies, directing them to ensure their presence at the now postponed session in a display of the ‘spirit of jihad’ to push through the proposed changes to the election laws.
Taking to Twitter, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the electoral reforms were connected to the country’s future. “We are trying in good faith to build a consensus on these reforms. In this regard, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser has once again been asked to contact the opposition so that a joint bill can be introduced. This is precisely the reason for postponing the joint session of parliament.”
He was hopeful that the opposition would seriously consider important electoral reforms for the sake of the country’s future. Yet, he made it clear that the government didn’t intend to back out of its plans if an agreement was not reached with the opposition. That shows the government intends to use the time between now and the next joint sitting to convince its allies in the coalition to support its insistence on the use of EVMs and internet voting for non-resident Pakistanis in order to muster the numbers required to pass the bills.
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The possibility of the government engaging with the opposition parties, with whom the prime minister has been on the warpath since his ascent to power, in a meaningful manner to allay their concerns about the proposed reforms and accommodating their suggestions to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections in the country appears remote. The PM has rightly stated that democracy begins with free and fair elections. But it’s also a fact that no democracy can survive without a vibrant opposition, which his government is bent on decimating. It is good to see the government engaging in legislative activity, but bulldozing legislation without thorough debate and input from the opposition defeats parliament’s raison d’être. This is especially true for legislation on important issues like electoral reforms.
Both the opposition and ECP, which were severely criticised by Mr Khan in his address before the postponement of the joint sitting, have valid objections to the introduction of EVMs and internet voting. The snub delivered by its allies to the PTI on the bills vindicates the opposition’s stance. The government must address all objections. Electoral reforms without participation from the opposition and other stakeholders will not serve democracy.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2021