The National Assembly of Pakistan passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 on Thursday, which seeks to remove the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in general elections as well as disallows overseas Pakistanis from voting electronically.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi presented the bill that was passed with a majority vote, with only members of the Grand Democratic Alliance opposing it.
Before presenting the bill, Abbasi presented a motion for allowing the bill to be sent directly to the Senate for its approval, bypassing the relevant standing committee. The motion was also passed by the NA with a majority vote.
The bill is expected to be sent to the Senate tomorrow.
Debate on election bill
Speaking about the legislation, Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said it was of immense significance.
He recalled the previous PTI government had made multiple amendments to the Election Act, 2017, including those that allowed the use of EVMs and granted overseas Pakistanis the right to vote electronically in general elections.
The PTI government had made the amendments through the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, which it had bulldozed through the NA along with 32 other legislations on November 17, 2021.
Tarar said the bill presented today sought to revive the Elections Act, 2017 in the shape prior to those amendments, which would ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.
Under the new bill, he said, two amendments were being made to Sections 94 and 103 of the Act, both of which pertain to the ECP conducting pilot projects for overseas voting and the use of EVMs.
Under the amendment in Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both houses of parliament.
Under the amendment in Section 103 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for the utilisation of EVMs and biometric verification system in by-elections.
The law minister said the Election Commission of Pakistan had also raised objections to the use of EVMs but clarified that the government was not against the use of technology.
"We only have concerns about the misuse of technology as the Results Transmission System had failed in last general elections to favour a particular political party," he said.
He also dispelled the impression that the amendments were aimed at depriving overseas Pakistanis of their right to vote.
"Overseas Pakistanis are a precious asset of the country and the government does not believe in snatching their right to vote," he said.
Earlier, Opposition Leader in the Nation Assembly Raja Riaz said electronic voting would not be successful in certain parts of the country. "Some areas are still without internet facilities," he said.
GDA lawmaker Ghous Bakhsh Mehr, on the other hand, said that EVMs were being used across the world and Pakistan should at least try using them. "If not the whole country, then use them in some areas," he said.
Jamaat-i-Islami's Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali said that the party had opposed the bill during the previous government's tenure. He added that the opinion of the ECP as well as of political parties should be sought with regards to the bill.
"This bill does not mention the powers of the ECP. It would have been better if the commission was further empowered," he said, reiterating that party heads should be summoned to give their opinion on the bill.
Expenses for upcoming elections
During the session, details of the expenses for the upcoming general elections were also shared.
According to the electoral watchdog's estimates, the elections would cost approximately Rs47.41 billion of which around Rs15bn would be for ensuring security.
The ECP put the cost of conducting electronic voting at Rs5.6bn while printing ballot papers would cost Rs4.83bn. Further, Rs1.79bn would be spent on training polling staff.
Giving a province-wise breakdown, the ECP said it would cost 9.65bn in Punjab, Rs3.65bn in Sindh, Rs3.95bn in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Rs1.11bn in Balochistan.
NAB amendment bill
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented a bill for amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 (NAO).
The bill is titled National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Amendments to NAB Ordinance
- NAB deputy chairman to become acting chairman following top official's retirement.
- Process to appoint new chairman to begin two months prior to incumbent's retirement and completed in 40 days.
- Federal and provincial tax matters removed from NAB's purview.
- Regulatory bodies' decisions removed from NAB's purview.
- Judges to be appointed in accountability courts for a three-year period; cases to be decided within a year.
- NAB bound to ensure availability of evidence prior to arrest.
- Up to five-years imprisonment for filing false reference.
Speaking about the NAB law, Tarar said it had been used to influence politicians, adding that "judges had also said that the NAB was used to corner politicians".
The House later approved the bill.
According to the bill, the NAB deputy chairman would become the acting chairman following the top official's retirement. If the deputy chairman is not available, any senior official would become the NAB's acting chairman.
In addition, the incumbent chairman cannot be re-appointed.
The process to appoint a new chairman would begin two months prior to the retirement of the incumbent chairman and would be completed in 40 days, according to the bill. If the prime minister and leader of the opposition are unable to agree on an appointee, the matter would be referred to the parliamentary committee.
According to the bill, the parliamentary committee would then finalise the name for a new chairman within 30 days.
The bill also limits the accountability watchdog's powers, removing federal and provincial tax matters from its domain as well as financial irregularities in any development project. In addition, the NAB would not be able to take action on any regulatory body's decisions.
It further states that judges would be appointed in accountability courts for a three-year period and the relevant high court 's chief justice should be consulted for their removal. The courts would have to decide cases within a year.
Furthermore, the NAB would have to begin an investigation on a complaint within six months and present an arrested person before an accountability court within 24 hours. The anti-graft watchdog would have to ensure the availability of evidence prior to the arrest.
The period of remand would also be reduced from 90 days to 14 days. If convicted, a person would be able to file an appeal till 30 days instead of 10 days previously.
The bill also seeks to stop NAB officials from issuing statements before a reference has been filed, the punishment for violating which would be one-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs100,000. The punishment for filing a false reference would be up to five-years imprisonment.
The bill is expected to be sent to the Senate tomorrow.
With additional input from Radio Pakistan