EVEN as speculation ran high of the government not having the requisite numbers, the PTI has emerged victorious in this week’s joint session by passing two crucial amendments to the Elections Act 2017. Both amendments, which relate to electronic voting machines and the right of overseas Pakistanis to vote, have been extremely controversial and the main point of contention between the ruling party and the opposition in recent times.
Members of the opposition had serious reservations against the bills and staged a walkout to register their protest at not being heard. The Election Commission of Pakistan, too, has stated its objections to the EVMs, and the PTI has gone as far as to berate the ECP only to apologise later. But in the end, the PTI was triumphant.
Days before the joint session, the ruling party’s allies were publicly grumbling and expressing their discontent with the PTI. However, on the eve of the session and during the vote itself, the same unhappy allies were somehow persuaded. How this displeasure gave way to acquiescence is anyone’s guess. What were these parties offered, and by whom remains a mystery, but if external forces were involved in bringing forth their compliance, it is an ugly reminder of how little things have changed even as efforts are ostensibly made to ‘purge the system’.
The fact that the session was a ruckus, that chaos, accusations and jeering dominated the session instead of debate speaks volumes about how much consensus there has been on these critical issues. Though all stakeholders ostensibly have the same goal of a free and fair general election, there has been no consensus. Instead of resolving a problem that has plagued the country for decades, the government chose to speak with two tongues to both the opposition and the ECP, and eventually managed to ease its way to victory.
This is an affront to democracy, and will ultimately serve no one other than those who hope to win by manipulating the flaws in the system. Our country’s elections have become increasingly controversial, and this unilateral pushing of one party’s preferred electoral reforms is only further steeping future elections in chaos. Winning by hook or by crook is certainly not a democratic endeavour, but it seems to be the preferred method of the ruling party when it comes to passing legislation.
Attempts to apologise to the ECP and a show of wanting good ties with the opposition are all part of this absurd exercise. Ultimately, hardly anything has been done to have everyone on board for electoral reforms that are so critical to our fragile democracy. Though the government may be congratulating itself on its victory in parliament, the reality is a bitter one. This managing of numbers and votes to bulldoze legislation is a blow to democracy, and against the spirit of freeness and fairness the government speaks of so effusively.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2021