Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati on Monday doubled down on his aspersions against Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and said that many aspects regarding the latter's appointment have remained a "secret".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad alongside Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, Swati said: "You [Sikandar Sultan Raja] were made the chief election commissioner so you could make arrangements for EVMs (electronic voting machines) so that the future generations do not raise a finger [on the legitimacy of the elections]. The Supreme Court had given you a pilot project. What happened to it?"
The latest tirade from the government minister comes days after the collision between the ruling party and the body plunged into an acrimonious chapter following the blistering allegations from the government over the ECP’s “biased” motives in objecting to its far-reaching electoral reforms.
Speaking on Monday, Swati said that the government was committed to bringing a new system to hold uncontroversial and fair elections in 2023. "Will you deprive the Pakistanis abroad of the right to vote? At whose behest are you bent on destroying such a great institution?"
"We would have never appointed you if we didn't respect the ECP," Swati said, all but biting off his words and added that the government only confirmed his appointment for the sake of the Constitution and in order to protect the ECP's dignity despite knowing that he was allegedly close with the Sharifs.
Echoing his earlier allegations against the ECP, Swati lashed out at the CEC and accused him of speaking the opposition's language “and messing around with the government.”
He said the government’s proposed law regarding the use of EVMs will be passed by parliament very soon. "The government is committed to bringing a fair system to hold uncontroversial and fair elections in 2023," he added.
‘Govt ready to take the opposition on board'
On the occasion, Babar Awan said that government will ensure legislation for transparent elections in the future and is also ready to talk with the opposition on electoral reforms as well as EVMs.
He said that a joint parliamentary committee had been proposed for negotiations on electoral reforms which would include the members from both sides of the aisle.
The government, he also said, had contacted the opposition parties last week following the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan and was ready to take confidence-building measures on electoral reforms.
"The formation of a joint parliamentary committee is the part of these measures and electoral reforms will be ensured through it."
However, the adviser clarified that electoral reforms are the fate of the nation as the government wants to give a transparent election system to the people.
Awan also said that EVMs had been used in 72 countries while credibility on these machines increased from 35 per cent to 89 per cent during the last three elections in the Philippines having a population of around 111 million people.
The PM's aide said that the PPP government talked about EVMs in 2009 while the ECP and the previous governments from 2014 to 2016 also deliberated on it.
He said that a parliamentary delegation including PPP leader Syed Naveed Qamar, PML-N leader Murtaza Javed Abbassi and the then opposition member and incumbent President Dr Arif Alvi also conducted a foreign visit in the past to witness election conducted through EVMs.
Therefore, he said that it was morally incorrect to oppose the EVMs by the opposition members at this stage.
Awan quoted section 103 of the Elections Act, 2017 and said the former government itself agreed to consider the use of EVMs in past and directed ECP through legislation to proceed in that regard.
He said that government would now proceed with electoral reforms and the use of EVMs at every cost because more than four years had been wasted.
He said that section 103 of the Elections Act is about the use of electronic voting and biometric verification which says: “The Commission (ECP) may conduct pilot projects for utilisation of electronic voting machines and biometric verification system in bye-elections in addition to the existing manual procedures for voter verification, casting and counting of votes to assess the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of the electronic voting machines and biometric verification system and shall share the results with the Government, which shall, within fifteen days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)”.
The adviser on parliamentary affairs also reiterated to fulfil the promise of the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis and said the government would ensure it through legislation because it has the majority in parliament.
Awan said that economy of the country like other sectors improved due to reforms during the tenure of PM Imran. Similarly, he said that electoral reforms would be ensured and a transparent election system would be introduced in the country.
(With input from APP)
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