Govt hails opposition readiness for talks on electoral reforms

Ijaz Kakakhel

The government on Tuesday welcome opposition readiness for discussing electoral reform process including use of EVM and i-voting system and other related issues.

In this regard a committee of both Upper and lower houses of parliament formed to create consensus in the reform process. But Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that time should not be wasted.

Talking to journalists, after Cabinet meeting, the minister said that electoral reforms were very important and talks with the opposition should move forward.

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and Member National Assembly Ali Muhammad Khan to speak to the opposition, adding that the government was ready to hold dialogues with the opposition on EVMs.

Chaudhry said that PM Imran Khan made it clear that giving overseas Pakistanis right to vote is an important component of electoral reforms, adding that overseas Pakistanis are our precious assets and depriving them of their right to vote would be an injustice. “Ensuring transparency in elections is the government s top priority,” he said.

The minister went on to say that federal cabinet was given detailed briefing on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and I-Voting, adding that the government has ordered 20 machines from a private company.

Regarding acquittal of former Punjab CM and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif and his family members, the information minister said that the people of Pakistan want to recover looted money from the Sharif family and if the case is heard on merit, Shehbaz Sharif would face imprisonment from six months to 25 years.

Fawad further said that Advisor to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar has addressed a press conference on the issue, adding that the fake reporting on court decision is a big problem and our IR Unit will file a case on fake reporting.

The information minister said a majority of the conflicts arise as the vote count comes in and that the government had shared a study of the Philippines with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), where 300 officials had died during conflicts when the final count came in. “This happened when the Philippines did not use EVMs.”

“No sitting government in Pakistan has ever focused on electoral reforms, it is the PTI-led government that aims to introduce them,” the minister said, highlighting that the incumbent regime had also run campaigns in this regard.

The federal minister said the government would bring its agenda to a joint session of the parliament and stressed once more that the government is willing to talk to the Opposition on electoral reforms.

The minister said that the federal cabinet has expanded the Pakistan Online Visa System (POVS), through which the country issues e-visas, Chaudhry said, pointing out that from 50, it is now available to 191 countries. “

The aim behind this is to promote tourism and business — and through this, nationals from 191 countries will be able to get Pakistan’s visas, while at home,” the information minister said.

Moreover, new legislation on moon sightings has been done, and as a result, the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee has banned private moon sightings, Chaudhry said. “Only announcements from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee or the government will be considered final and binding.”

Besides the federal government, provincial and district committees for moon sighting will also be formed, the information minister said, noting that officials from SUPARCO, Pakistan Meteorological Department, Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Ministry of Science and Technology have also been included in the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee.

The minister said the federal cabinet, as a goodwill gesture, has approved humanitarian aid for Indonesia — a country that he said has stood firmly by Pakistan. “This is a gesture of goodwill as they battle coronavirus.”

Fawad Chaudhry said that the economic indicators presented before the cabinet showed that foreign remittances have gone up by $5.4 billion, revenue collection during the first two months of the fiscal year has increased by Rs858 billion, agriculture, manufacturing, and the services sector have also witnessed an upward trend, and fo reign exchange reserves are at a record level, $27.2 billion, while exports went up by $4.6 billion, Chaudhry said.

He noted that inflation had increased, but that agricultural income has also gone up alongside.

Responding to a question, the information minister said if the case of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif is heard on a daily basis and on merit, he would “soon be in jail”. The information minister hoped that the case of Shahbaz is wrapped up at the earliest so that the people of Pakistan could “finally get rid of” the Sharif family.

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