Sanity prevails on legislation

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IT seems the sanity prevailed at last and the circumstances forced the Government to revert back to the negotiating process to find an amicable solution to the differences and controversies surrounding the important pieces of legislation.

The decision to call joint session of Parliament on Thursday was abruptly withdrawn after abortive efforts to ensure presence of the required number of parliamentarians and due to reservations expressed by the allies of the Government over the proposed electoral reforms bills regarding the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and introduction of I-voting for Overseas Pakistanis in the next poll.

There had been reports for weeks that the Government is going to convene the joint session of Parliament to push through its agenda of getting those bills passed which it could not due to numerical majority of the opposition in the upper house of Parliament.

Saner elements had been urging the Government to show flexibility in its approach and policy and instead of bulldozing the legislative process it should try to build consensus on controversial bills.

It is unfortunate that no serious effort was made to address reservations and apprehensions of the opposition parties as well as a majority of the public opinion about dangers involved in imposing unilateral legislation on the country.

We have also been emphasizing in these columns that the policy of doing legislation through a joint session of Parliament would not help achieve the desired results and complicate the political divide further.

The stated objective of the Government for electoral reforms, especially the use of EVMs, was to bring transparency to the polling and result announcement process but there are genuine apprehensions that these machines are prone to misuse, therefore, their use for polling in the entire country might dent the credibility of the electoral process as we witnessed in the case of breakdown of the Result Transmission System (RTS) in mysterious circumstances in the last general election.

The situation becomes all the more complicated as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for holding elections in a fair and transparent manner, has also raised serious questions about hasty use of EVMs.

In this backdrop, the opposition parties have been alleging that the real objective of the use of EVMs was to ‘steal’ elections through digital means.

Some neutral observers have, therefore, suggested that the EVMs should be used experimentally in some constituencies in the next general election and based on the feedback and experience, their use can be expanded to more constituencies with the passage of time.

With all this in view, the decision of the Government to postpone the scheduled joint session of Parliament, for whatever reasons, is a welcome development as it would afford an opportunity to both the treasury and the opposition benches to review their stand and try to sort out the differences.

The Government did no service to its cause by averting meaningful discussions with the opposition before summoning the joint session and, some political analysts believe, it harmed its image by taking a U-turn in ambiguous circumstances.

A day earlier, the treasury benches faced defeat twice at the hands of the opposition in the National Assembly, where it otherwise enjoyed a comfortable majority, during voting on motions seeking introduction of two bills.

Media reports also suggest that the Government was unable to ensure the presence of the required number of members for the joint session and its allies too had serious reservations about some bills, especially the one relating to electoral reforms.

Though the Government claimed the decision to postpone the joint session was taken to allow the Speaker of the National Assembly to talk to the opposition parties with a view to building consensus but the opposition claims its successful strategy foiled attempts of the Government to bulldoze important bills through the joint session.

PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto even claimed that the contacts of the opposition with the allies of the Government forced the Government to change its decision.

According to him, the opposition members succeeded in convincing the allies about dangerous consequences of unilateral electoral reforms regarding the use of EVMs and the government’s efforts to make the ECP controversial.

There is an impression that all is not well on the parliamentary front, therefore, the Government will have to review its approach of unilateral legislation and instead hold sincere dialogue with the opposition on relevant issues.

 

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