Changed laws

Published May 28, 2022

THERE will be much noise made over bills passed in the last two days by parliament to amend election and National Accountability Bureau laws. Some of the criticism may indeed be legitimate, but the changes that have been made were expected, even inevitable. Consider, for example, the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999. NAB is arguably the most hated federal institution for its long history of unlawful and unjust victimisation of politicians, sometimes even journalists. It has been roundly criticised in the past by the highest court of the land for demonstrating a complete lack of respect for due process and for acting with prejudice. Its failure to properly investigate and prosecute even those cases where evidence might have been plentiful have invited frustration — sometimes from those who support it. The leaders currently in government suffered the worst of NAB’s excesses, and it is understandable why they wanted to cut it down to size. However, it would have been much better if this had been done in a more democratic way — with debate, consultation and consensus — rather than through the use of an amendment bill which essentially rewrote the original law. It was the responsibility of the PTI, which had been one of the loudest champions of NAB in recent years, to have made itself part of that process. However, after resigning from the assemblies, its lawmakers left the field empty for the government to do as it may. They are responsible for that.

Likewise, the government’s decision to make changes to the election laws (which had been bulldozed by the PTI government last year despite strong protests) must be viewed pragmatically. There were significant challenges in the implementation of overseas voting and the introduction of electronic voting machines which the Election Commission had detailed earlier, but the PTI had ignored. The changes now made to those laws give the ECP room to first trial pilot projects and then use those findings to see how both things can be implemented in the future. It should be noted that without the changes that have just been made, there could be no early elections as the ECP simply did not have enough time to implement the election law amendments legislated by the PTI. Will the PTI challenge them in court, especially if it means foreclosing the possibility of an early election? It will be interesting to see.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022

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