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Election reform controversy

The controversy over the election reforms seems to be escalating which has placed the government at loggerheads with the opposition and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The failure to reach consensus on the issue and hastily pass the law will cast a shadow on the next general elections.

The PTI government vowed to bring reforms to ensure fair and transparent elections. But the vital legislation – Election Amendment Act 2020 – was passed on the same day without debate when the National Assembly passed a record 21 bills in one day, taking advantage of the opposition’s walkout. Amid protest, a committee was formed to review them but the bills cannot be withdrawn and are on course to be passed by parliament.

This has raised grave concerns on passing legislation without debate and failure to reach a consensus. The objective behind electoral reforms was to have trust in the electoral process and ensure the results are acceptable to all parties instead of raising rigging allegations. However, this has not only widened the gulf between the government and opposition but will have a lingering effect for the next two years. It may be difficult to reach bipartisan support due to ugly scenes we witnessed in parliament recently but it is necessary for the democratic process and to point out any anomalies.

The ECP has also raised objection over the bill, stating that some provisions were in contravention of the constitution or could dilute its powers. It raised concerns that polls are held on the basis of population and not political preferences.  There are also concerns that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which the government has given huge significance, cannot guarantee election transparency. These concerns, if remained unaddressed, can push a government into a confrontation with the ECP.

The opposition has decided to join hands and discuss the implications of the proposed electoral reforms. They have already rejected introducing EVMs or allowing overseas Pakistan the right to vote. The government will have to take the extra mile to ensure that the serious reservations of the opposition and the ECP are addressed. It cannot attempt to botch the legislation in the final years before the next elections. It is imperative to end the impasse to strengthen democracy in the country.