Government on weak wicket



THE strong reaction displayed by different segments of the society to the recent unilateral amendments in two vital pieces of law clearly show that the Government is on the weak wicket as there was hardly any justification either for curbing the dissent or changing an established electoral practice.

While the opposition, representative bodies of media and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have denounced the controversial ordinance as unconstitutional and an attempt to stifle the voice of dissent, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is reported to be upset over amendment in the Election Act that allows the public office holders, including ministers, to take part in the campaigns of electoral candidates.

Political observers claim that the move of the Government is devoid of merit and can, at best, be described as an attempt to divert attention of the people from the growing political uncertainty in the country.

The very fact that the Government promulgated the amended laws through ordinance and not through legislative process in Parliament is reflective of lack of transparency on the part of the authorities concerned on the issues involved.

Laws are framed for the good of the majority and there is hardly any logic to stick to the wrong position when the majority opposes a piece of law.

It is, however, regrettable that the Government is trying to defend an indefensible position as a high level meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan rejected criticism of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Amendment (PECA) Ordinance 2022 as unwarranted.

No one would oppose the plea that those trying to indulge in character assassination should be taken to task but journalists’ bodies are absolutely clear that the issue is well taken care of by the existing laws and the new amendment is nothing but a move to suppress voice of media and the opponents.

The unanimity of the media community can be gauged by the fact that a Joint Action Committee (JAC) consisting of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), PFUJ, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors has been formed, which has vowed to have no engagement with the Government until the controversial amendment is revoked.

The HRCP has expressed solidarity with the journalists and the two main opposition parties – PML(N) and PPP have expressed their resolve to knock the doors of the judiciary on the controversy.

The HRCP has rightly pointed out that not only is this legislation undemocratic, but it will also inevitably be used to clamp down on dissenters and critics of the government and state institutions.

The apprehensions gain credence as there have been numerous moves that created a wedge between the Government and the general public as well as media workers.

The opponents have a point as issues like criticism of institutions and libel are already covered by the existing laws.

No one would defend personal and motivated attacks but citizens and media have the responsibility to keep a strict vigil on the performance of elected representatives and institutions as the Constitution gave every citizen the right to form and express his/her opinion regarding government’s performance.

As for the amendment in the Election Act, it is intriguing that on the one hand the Government is forcefully defending its plans to impose the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in elections (on the plea of making the polling process transparent) despite serious reservations both by the political parties and the Election Commission but on the other hand the law has been amended to open floodgates of, what is known as, pre-polls rigging.

The new law allows a member of parliament, provincial assembly or elected member of local government, including members holding any other office under the constitution or any other law, to visit or address public meetings in “any area or constituency”.

This is, indeed, a serious infringement upon the domain of the ECP as it is for the Commission to formulate a code of conduct for elections.

How level playing field for all candidates would be ensured as per requirements of the relevant laws when the Government would be free to use state resources and machinery in the election campaign?


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