The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on Tuesday green-lighted the government’s electoral reforms bill with a majority vote.
The five amendments to the Election Act that have been approved include holding Senate elections through open ballot, granting right to vote as well as conditionally contest polls in the country to overseas Pakistanis and issuance of lists of candidates for reserved seats for women and members of religious minorities within three days.
Declaring a National Assembly, Senate or local government seat vacant if the successful candidate does not take oath within 60 days of the polls and demarcation on the basis of voters instead if population were also given the nod.
The meeting of the committee was held presided over by its chairman, Mujahid Ali.
Parliamentary Affairs Adviser Dr Babar Awan briefed the members of the committee on the legal aspects of the bill.
The opposition suffered a setback at the onset of the proceedings when its challenge to the adviser presenting the bill was turned down by a single vote.
Mahmood Bashir Virk and other members belonging to the opposition parties contended that the adviser could not present an amendment bill under the law.
They argued that Awan's briefing focused more on the political aspects of the bill than legal ones.
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officials raised their reservations over the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and certain clauses of the bill.
They maintained that the law on the use of EVMs could not be amended.
Maleeka Bokhari of the PTI lashed out at the ECP officials for their failure to hold free and fair Senate elections.
“The ECP was unable to stop a person [Yousuf Raza Gilani] from being elected whose son was seen horse trading in a video,” she added.
Mahesh Kumar of the PPP in his dissenting note wrote that passing the bill in its present form would be against legal and Constitutional clauses.
He demanded that the bill be postponed for removing the alleged irregularities in it.
Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-e-Islami also submitted his dissenting note, contending that the bill was not in compliance with the law and Constitution.
He added that the government wanted to deprive the ECP of its powers through the bill.
A day earlier, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the next general elections in the country would take place under a 'new mechanism' and consultation with the ECP was under way for this purpose.
"We discussed the proposed legislation for electoral reforms, electronic voting machines, biometric system and i-voting," he maintained after a meeting with ECP officials.
Fawad added that details of the proposed 49 amendments in the Electoral Reforms Bill, tabled in the National Assembly in October last year, were shared with the ECP.
"It was decided that the minister of science and technology will present a demonstration on the EVMs to the ECP, and then the authority will appoint a consultant to generate an opinion in the matter."
According to Fawad, the ministry of information was working "day and night on [the matter of] EVMs."
The minister said the government had pledged to provide overseas Pakistanis with the right to franchise as they had an important role in national development. "A report has been presented to the ECP in this regard," he concluded.