ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties met on Thursday to discuss the option of challenging the recently-passed controversial law on the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and introduction of I-voting for overseas Pakistanis in the superior courts and started consultations with lawyers to finalise a strategy in this regard.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the joint opposition a day after the government bulldozed 33 bills in a joint sitting of parliament amid strong protest by the opposition members.
A senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) told Dawn that the opposition parties had decided “in principle” to approach the court; however, a final decision in this regard would be made after the approval of the leadership. Moreover, the PPP leader said, they were yet to decide as to who would become petitioner in the case and that they were weighing different options whether the opposition would jointly file a petition or every party would file it separately, which ultimately would be clubbed in the court.
“The opposition will present its stance over this unconstitutional step [of the government] before the court in a forceful manner and we hope that the judiciary will uphold the country’s constitution,” declared Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secretary general Ahsan Iqbal while talking to the media with PPP vice president Sherry Rehman, Shahida Akhtar Ali of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Shafiq Tarin of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) outside the Parliament House after the meeting of the joint opposition.
Minister invites opposition parties to talks
“We are feeling ashamed as we will have to take an issue related to the parliament to the court, but we are doing it because of the black and undemocratic actions of the government,” said Mr Iqbal.
“In the Supreme Court, there will be talk on technical aspects and points of law and our case is strong,” said Mr Iqbal while responding to a question whether the opposition would also challenge the voting process in the parliament.
Sherry Rehman said the opposition would use whatever forum it could to challenge these laws which had been imposed on the nation to rig the next elections.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, while addressing the joint sitting of the parliament on Wednesday, had already warned the government that his party would challenge the EVM and I-voting law in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry again asked the opposition parties to come to the speaker’s chamber, instead of knocking at the door of the court on the reforms issue.
In a tweet, he said suggestions from the opposition would be welcomed.
The minister advised the opposition to understand the EVM system and assured them that all their apprehensions would be addressed.
He, however, declared that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) could not backtrack on the voting right to overseas Pakistanis which had been promised in its election manifesto.
On the other hand, the opposition leaders said the next elections in the country would be held only under those laws on which there would be a consensus of all stakeholders.
“Let it be put on record that no election law has ever been passed by the parliament in Pakistan without consensus and agreement by all stakeholders,” said Sherry Rehman.
She said the new law passed by the government through an “artificial majority” was a recipe for sowing chaos in Pakistan. She said political engineering of this kind had yielded disastrous results for Pakistan before as well, but the country had never been as weak and divided as today.
Ms Rehman said EVM was being imposed on the nation and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) despite their consistent disagreements and reiterated concerns. She said Germany, Italy and the United States had all rejected EVMs, but this government was adamant on going ahead with them.
“Why are they so scared of votes? The truth is that people have rejected them,” she said.
Ahsan Iqbal said the government was not the only stakeholder in the election process and the ECP was the biggest and main stakeholder.
Mr Iqbal warned both the ECP and Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority) against making any compromise under the pressure from the government.
Mr Iqbal alleged that they had “information” that the Nadra chairman was using the organisational resources and data for the government’s campaign for the coming elections.
“Nadra is a national institution. The Nadra chairman should perform his functions in an impartial manner. If he is found involved in providing national data to the government for rigging the polls, then he will be liable to face treason charges,” said Mr Iqbal.
He warned that Pakistan could not afford to have another controversial election.
He said the opposition was not against giving the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis, but it had raised objections on the I-voting system as it was prone to hacking and tampering. He said even the developed countries had abandoned this system as secrecy of the voter was compromised in it.
“The Supreme Court in Germany said that EVMs cannot keep the secrecy of people’s votes and hence declared it unconstitutional,” he said.
Mr Iqbal also criticised the government for passing the bill to provide right of appeal to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav. He was of the view that there was no need for this special law as the existing laws already had the provisions under which decisions of the military courts could be challenged in the high court. He said there was a precedent when the Peshawar High Court set aside convictions awarded by the military courts.
PkMAP Senator Shafiq Tarin wondered how the government could ensure use of EVM and I-voting in Balochistan where there was no electricity, internet and even mobile phone towers in numerous areas.
The opposition members again lashed out at National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser for his alleged biased conduct during the joint sitting of parliament and called him a “puppet” of the ruling PTI.
Mr Iqbal said the government had used the speaker as a “tissue paper” as on one hand, it asked Mr Qaiser to hold talks with the opposition and, on the other, after “telephone calls” to the allies, it convened the joint session of parliament.
He said they had asked the opposition’s steering committee to make a decision as to how could they lodge a protest against Mr Qaiser for his alleged biased conduct during the joint sitting.
Meanwhile, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani in a statement said the people of Pakistan had been robbed of their constitutional right to be ruled by elected representatives of their choice.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2021