Opposition asks speaker to form new panel on poll reforms

Published November 15, 2021
This file photo shows Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/File
This file photo shows Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif. — AFP/File

• Says committee on legislative business cannot take up EVM, I-voting bills
• PPP claims option of moving no-trust motion under consideration
• Shehbaz responds to NA speaker’s letter

ISLAMABAD: The joint opposition in parliament has asked National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to constitute a new parliamentary committee to take up electoral reforms as a whole in the form of a “complete package”.

The demand was made by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif through a letter which he had written to the speaker on behalf of all the opposition parties in parliament after a meeting of the steering committee of the joint opposition on Sunday.

The meeting of the newly formed steering committee had been convened to review the letter written by the speaker on Nov 11 inviting the opposition parties for talks on the pending legislation, including bills regarding the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis.

In his letter, the speaker had suggested to the opposition to activate the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business which he had formed to consider 21 bills that had been bulldozed by the government in the National Assembly on June 10 in the absence of the opposition members.

However, the opposition parties rejected the speaker’s proposal, saying the committee had been formed “without following the required legislative procedure” and despite holding three meetings, it could not even finalise its terms of reference for its procedural jurisdiction due to lack of support by the government members.

“During this period, all the bills which were to be considered by this committee either lapsed or were rejected by the Senate and were referred to the joint sitting of parliament, thus completely negating the purpose for which the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business was formed,” writes Mr Sharif in the letter, a copy of which was released to the media by the PML-N’s media office.

The speaker had constituted the committee on legislative business following the threat by the opposition members to boycott the budget session of the assembly after the treasury and opposition members disrupted the proceedings of the lower house of parliament when the former did not allow Shehbaz Sharif to deliver his opening speech for three days.

“The opposition believes that issues of national interest, especially legislation with wide-ranging long-term impact on the people of Pakistan, should be resolved through consensus-oriented consultation,” writes Mr Sharif.

The opposition leader proposed to the speaker that a parliamentary committee composed of the members from both the houses of parliament should be formed to consider and approve with consensus a complete package of electoral reforms that should also include the election bills which were passed by the National Assembly but could not sail through the Senate within the constitutionally stipulated 90 days.

Mr Sharif suggested that the composition of the parliamentary committee should be on the basis of a similar committee formed by the then speaker, Ayaz Sadiq, in July 2014 to consider and approve the electoral reforms package. He informed the speaker that the said committee had held 117 meetings and unanimously passed an electoral reforms legislative package on November 10, 2017. The previous committee on electoral reforms was headed by then finance minister Ishaq Dar.

The joint opposition has, however, suggested that the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business could be allowed to function and it should consider the other bills passed by the National Assembly but not adopted by the Senate and had been referred to the joint sitting of parliament.

The opposition maintained that this process would be in consonance with parliamentary practice and precedence to achieve the required consensus on issues of national importance.

Meanwhile, PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari in a statement claimed that the option of bringing a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, the speaker or the Senate chairman was under consideration of the joint opposition. He said the joint opposition after consultation would decide the strategy as to how the present “unconstitutional government” could be sent packing and from where they should take a start for it.

Earlier, Speaker Asad Qaiser in his letter to the opposition leader had stated that both the government and opposition should proceed ahead with a view to building consensus beyond party politics on all reforms of common interest in the larger national interest. He had asked the opposition leader to play his role in reviving the consultation process on the “controversial bills” through the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business. He was of the view that the consultation process had not been completed by the committee.

The speaker had written the letter to Mr Sharif on the demand of the joint opposition which had asked him to give them in writing the terms of engagements with them that should include a categorical statement that it was the government which was approaching them for a dialogue and an assurance that the recently promulgated controversial ordinances would also be discussed in the parliamentary committee.

The decision that the opposition would seek everything in writing from the speaker had been taken by the members of the steering committee of the joint opposition at a meeting on November 11.

The opposition parties had formed the steering committee on November 10 to devise a joint strategy inside parliament after the government put off the 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 EVM and introduction of I-voting for overseas Pakistanis.

Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry had claimed that the joint session had been put off because the government wanted to once again engage the opposition on electoral reforms which was an issue linked to the country’s future. He had also 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 joint session was cancelled by the government after becoming politically isolated and it did not have the numbers anymore to bulldoze their bills as their own people and allies had stepped back.

Meanwhile, Fawad Chaudhry through his official social media account on Twitter on Sunday said the issue of electoral reforms was not the agenda of Imran Khan or Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), it was a national agenda.

The minister said all political parties should move forward for creation of consensus on electoral reforms. He said it would be a great achievement of the political system if an electoral system was established under which all the political leadership could trust the elections results.

Commenting on the information minister’s tweet, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb in a statement alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan had made controversial every national agenda. She said every political party of the country wanted electoral reforms, “but Imran Khan only wants to steal the [upcoming] elections.”

Ms Aurangzeb said the Election Commission’s report on Daska by-poll had exposed the claims of the prime minister regarding transparency in the election system and electoral reforms. She said the PTI had started talking about national consensus only after expression of no confidence on it by its allies. “People want Imran Khan’s resignation and not his election agenda,” she added.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2021

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