LAHORE: The government and opposition in the Punjab Assembly are heading towards a deadlock over the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the local government election as both are not willing to budge from their stance.

Consultation between the treasury and opposition members are underway and the latter is trying to convince the former for not using the EVMs in the local polls, believing that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may not be equipped with the technology in a short span of time.

The PTI Punjab government has proposed that the ECP hold LG elections in two phases — the first on May 15 and second phase in June.

The Punjab Assembly Standing Committee is currently having deliberations on the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2021. The government may table the bill in the ongoing session of the Punjab Assembly whether it reaches a consensus with the opposition or not on various clauses (of the bill).

The members of the standing committee include the opposition PML-N’s Samiullah Khan, Awais Leghari, Malik Ahmad Khan and Chaudhry Shafique, the PPP’s Ali Gilani and Makhdoom Usman and the PTI’s ministers Basharat Raja, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Mahmoodur Rashid and Aslam Iqbal besides Public Accounts Committee chairman Sajid Bhatti of the PML-Q.

“Both the government and opposition have reached a consensus on some points like holding the union council members and mayors’ election on the same day. Besides, both also agreed to do away with the condition of a certain education degree,” an official source told Dawn on Saturday.

He says the standing committee met five times and went through almost 70pc of the proposed local body bill clause by clause.

“Both sides have agreed on holding the UCs and mayors’ polls the same day to save expense.”

He adds that the bill proposes that the election of local governments “shall be held on a party basis through a secret ballot on the basis of adult franchise, through EVMs and I-voting, in the prescribed manner.

“This is a thorny issue. The opposition is not in favour of the use of EVMs in the LG polls while the treasury is insisting on it,” the official says, adding that the opposition is of the view that the ECP could not manage to equip itself for the requirement of holding the polls in a few months.

“Both sides are heading to a deadlock,” he says, maintaining that the opposition also doubted the government’s intentions with regard to holding the local polls in Punjab on the proposed time (May).

The opposition apprehends that if the EVMs issue remains unsettled and goes to the court, the government may try to delay the polls further.

There is another conflict on the ‘new two-tier system’. The bill has proposed the election of the UCs and mayors while the opposition wants restoration of a three-tier system – UCs, MCs (municipal corporations) and mayors.

“The opposition believes that the new two-tier system will reduce the urban representation in the local governments,” the official says.

In reply to Dawn’s query opposition lawmaker Samiullah Khan says if the government pressed for conducting the polls on the EVMs and bulldosed legislation (in the Punjab Assembly), the opposition would launch a protest drive.

Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi has asked the treasury to try to evolve a consensus on the bill with the opposition and complete consultations at the earliest.

The PTI government had dissolved the LG created under the PLGA 2013 on May 4, 2019, primarily because most of its representatives belonged to the PML-N.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022

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