Opposition says will challenge electoral amendments in Supreme Court

Published November 17, 2021
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto (L), Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif (C) and other opposition leaders speak to the media in Islamabad on Wednesday. —DawnNewsTV
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto (L), Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif (C) and other opposition leaders speak to the media in Islamabad on Wednesday. —DawnNewsTV

Following a chaotic joint session of parliament on Wednesday, during which the government passed amendments to the Elections Act, 2017 and multiple other bills, the opposition announced that it will challenge the move in the Supreme Court.

Addressing the media after the opposition walked out from the session in protest, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari lambasted the the government for bulldozing amendments and said the opposition would raise a voice against the move on all relevant forums.

"The entire nation must be informed that the government did not win but lost during the joint session today," he said.

Bilawal elaborated there were separate rules for a joint session of parliament and a normal session.

"And I tried my best to draw the attention of treasury benches and National Assembly (NA) speaker towards rules pertaining to a joint session in the 1973 Constitution," he said. According to the rules, he explained, the government required more than half the votes of the combined strength of the two houses of parliament to pass a bill through a joint session.

The PPP chairperson said this meant that if there were 342 members in the NA and 100 in the Senate, the government needed at least 222 votes to get a bill passed through a joint session.

"If the treasury benches are unable to cross this number, no law is passed," he continued, saying that the opposition's stance was that no laws were passed today, be it a law for the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) or "giving an NRO to Kulbhushan Jadhav — an Indian spy.

Bilawal said if the government would insist that the new legislations were according to the law, "we will challenge them in the Supreme Court" and contest them at every forum.

"Today, no law has been passed for EVMs, no NRO was given to Kulbhushan Jadhav, because the government did not have the [required] numbers."

The government, he said, had set aside all parliamentary procedures and norms to show that they had succeeded.

"But it is my appeal to the media, and it is its responsibility [as well], to make the people understand that the government has not been successful."

Speaking about the ruckus witnessed during the joint session, he said the country was going through a difficult time and the nation was looking to parliament to address and solve its problems.

"It is a pity [...] that politicians, when they gathered for the joint session, instead of addressing the difficulties faced by people were adding to their problems," he commented.

'Black day in parliament's history'

Earlier, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said, "Today is a black day in parliament's history."

He, too, explained that the rules for a joint session stated that the government needed around 222 votes to pass a law and it did not have the required votes today.

Referring to the pandemonium in the joint session, he said the opposition cited references from the law and Constitution to show that the government did not have the required number of votes to pass the amendments.

"But the speaker did not listen to us," he complained. "They were bent on getting the bill for the use of EVMs and other bills passed."

The opposition leader continued that they had approached the speaker during the session and told him about their reservations and objections.

"I told him that you are being unfair, that you had assured of not toeing the party line, but he did the opposite. He did not listen to us."

Shehbaz said, "Today, we saw a speaker-PTI nexus as we have seen the NAB-Niazi nexus in the past."

"I kept on asking him to open my microphone," but to no avail, he added.

Reiterating that today was a "black day in parliament's history", he added that the opposition had also pointed out that just eight countries in the world had adopted the use of EVMs for elections and nine had even rejected it.

"Laws and rules were trampled today and consequently, we were compelled to boycott the session and come here to tell the nation how they (government) is playing with its fate in parliament."

'Opposition sounds defeated'

Reacting to the opposition leaders' speeches in parliament, Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry later said they "sound defeated".

"Their speeches were those of exhausted pehalwans (wrestlers), and they have lost all hope," he said while speaking to the media in Islamabad.

The minister said the government had made all-out efforts to develop a consensus on electoral reforms and other bills and invited the opposition multiple times for talks.

"But unfortunately, due to the opposition's negative attitude, we had to pass the bills without its participation."

Criticising the opposition for not supporting the bills, he remarked: "They will remember this defeat for long."

Chaudhry continued that the opposition's dreams of moving a no-confidence motion against Senate Chairperson Sadiq Sanjrani had also shattered today and they were forced to wake up to the reality.

"Today, they must have realised where they stand and what is their political status."

He added that those who used to allege that "institutions were supporting the PTI government" would have also realised today what the reality was.

The minister further stated that the passing of the bills through the joint parliamentary session was a confirmation of the PTI being the biggest party in the Senate and NA.

Chaudhry said the government was again inviting the opposition to hold talks on the matter and change its strategy.

"Stop being stubborn as you cannot oust us."

Speaking about the bills presented in the joint session today, he said the most important of them were the amendments that would allow the use of EVMs and grant voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. He assured that the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP's) reservations on the amendments had been addressed and its recommendations incorporated in the bills.

"And if the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) has any recommendations, we will incorporate them as well."

And, he added, parliament would decide how elections would be held. "The ECP will only [make arrangements] for holding elections."

Moreover, he said, the bill for amendments to the anti-rape law had also been presented during the session for the creation of special courts for rape case proceedings and special cells for investigating these cases.

Altogether, the minister said, around 70 bills had been presented and lawmakers were to vote on them today.

Replying to a question, he admitted that the amendments could be challenged in the court, but added that since the bills had been passed through a joint session, it would be difficult to challenge them.

To another question about the government not having the required numbers to pass the bills, he said even if the required number of votes added up to 222, the Constitution considered votes cast by "members of the present" and hence, the passing of the bills was in accordance with the law.

The minister also announced that Prime Minister Imran would not address the parliament's joint session today, saying that voting on bills was to continue for long.

He also thanked the PTI's allies for their support.

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