Controversial poll reforms | Dawn

This article was published in Dawn on June 17, 2021 and is available at the following link

ARGUABLY the most controversial package of electoral reform proposals in the history of Pakistan is halfway through the parliamentary cycle to become a law. The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2020, comprising 49 amendments to Elections Act, 2017, was introduced in the National Assembly on Oct 16, 2020. The bill sailed through the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on June 8, 2021, when only eight out of the total 21 members were present. The bill came up before the National Assembly on June 10 and was passed the same day without any debate. This was the day when the National Assembly passed 20 other bills while the opposition had walked out after unsuccessfully trying to seek a debate.

Another bill — the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill — which was originally promulgated as an ordinance on May 8, 2021, and covered two very important electoral reforms — the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVM) and enabling overseas Pakistanis to cast their vote from their countries of residence — was also passed the same day — again without any debate.

The two bills are now before the Senate where these may either be forwarded to a standing committee and then be taken up by the full Senate or the rules may be suspended and the Senate may directly take them up. Although, the opposition constitute a majority in the Senate, the defeat of the bills in the Senate is not a forgone conclusion. Even if the bills are defeated in the Senate, the ruling coalition will most likely take the two bills to the joint session of parliament where the ruling coalition has a numerical edge over the opposition and, therefore, there are brighter chances of the passage of the electoral reforms bills in the joint session.

Although these laws may be technically passed by parliament by a majority of votes, these are not ordinary pieces of legislation, and the lack of consensus between the opposition and the ruling party may seriously, in fact critically, undermine the implementation of the reforms and the successful conduct of the next general election. The very rationale of electoral reforms, as often reiterated by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is that all political parties should have trust in the electoral process and accept the results of the next election. How can this trust be created and the acceptance of the result of the next election ensured if there is such a wide gulf between the treasury benches and the opposition?

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