The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on Friday after one-sided voting by opposition members rejected key amendments to the Elections Act.
They include allowing e-voting, holding open Senate elections, giving Pakistanis living abroad the right to vote via internet and parliamentarians vacating their seats if they did not take oath within 60 days.
This comes as a major blow to the government’s plan to move ahead with holding the next elections using electronic voting machines (EVMs) and e-voting.
The committee met under the chairmanship of PPP MNA Taj Haider to review the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Parliamentary Affairs Adviser Dr Babar Awan said he should be allowed to speak first as the government’s stance on the position of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should be clarified.
“The mandate of this institution [ECP] is to hold clean and transparent elections according to the Constitution and it cannot do anything on its own,” he added.
“It [ECP] cannot raise objections on the power of legislation.”
Awan said the ECP had not clarified how the secrecy would be violated by using EVMs.
The adviser gave a few more answers but the chairman refused to give him more time.
The chairman had recently allowed Samina Mumtaz, a new member of the committee, to vote but deemed her presence necessary.
The government’s side demanded that the new member should be given the right to vote online as the judges of the Supreme Court could hold an online hearing.
The chairman replied that a similar demand by Senator Kamran Murtaza had been turned down.
“How can one member be allowed something that had been refused to another?”
On the ECP’s request, the chairman had the word “objections” used by the parliamentary affairs adviser deleted.
Outraged, Federal Minister Azam Swati maintained that the ECP was “making fun of the government”.
He accused the ECP of taking bribes to rig elections, adding that the commission was not entitled to “ruin” democracy in the country.
The opposition and ECP officials were outraged over the allegation.
The ECP officials walked out of the meeting in protest.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said “harsh” allegations had been levelled against the ECP.
He asked Swati to explain from whom the ECP had taken money -- the PML-N or PPP? On this, Swati replied that the opposition parties regularly attacked the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which too was a constitutional institution.
The government members of the body staged a walkout from the meeting over not allowing Samina to vote online and refusing to give more time to Awan to respond to the ECP’s reservations over the use of EVMs.
Later, the opposition members unilaterally rejected the amendments.
“We wanted to use technology [for the polls] but the amendments were rejected because of the government’s attitude,” the chairman said.
Swati later told the media that the government had prepared EVMs taking into account the technical aspects mentioned by the ECP.
“According to the decision of the Supreme Court, all the work has to be done by the ECP itself,” he added.
The minister said that the government had the option of convening a joint session of parliament.
“The bill will be referred to the National Assembly next week and passed by a joint sitting of parliament.”
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