By Our correspondent
ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan says the government plans to make 49 changes to the Election Act 2017 to ensure transparency in the election process.
Addressing a joint press conference here along with Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, Awan said the prime minister wanted such an election process that no one could doubt the transparency of polls.
Awan said the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) was not ready for electoral reforms.
He said the reforms agenda will be put before the stakeholders, including the civil society, the media and bar councils and associations, for their inputs. Under the reforms package, Section 103 is being amended to allow the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) to check rigging while Section 94 will be amended to give the right of franchise to the overseas Pakistanis.
Awan said it was also being proposed that the electoral rolls be prepared on the basis of registration data available with the Nadra. “We also want the delimitation of constituencies on the basis of registered voters.”
He said Section 202 about enlistment of political parties would also be amended and a political party would have to submit a list of at least 10,000 members with their signatures or thumb impressions along with copies of their computerized national identity cards (CNICs) and enlistment fee. A new Section 213-A would be also added to the Election Act, 2017 making compulsory for the registered political parties to hold their annual convention.
He said Section 15 of the Elections Act, 2017 was also being amended, which was regarding complaints against polling staff. This new amendment would enable the contesting candidates to challenge the appointment of polling staff within 15 days.
Moreover, he said delimitation related section would be amended and further delimitation to be made on the basis of number of registered voters rather than population.
The electoral rolls would be prepared on the basis of CNICs data of Nadra, he added.
Awan said an elected member of federal or provincial legislatures would have to take oath within 60 days after his/her election as per suggested amendment otherwise, the seat would be declared vacant.
He said more financial autonomy was also suggested for the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Awan said a former judge of the Supreme Court addressed the returning officers (ROs) in General Elections 2013 following which it was named as `ROs Elections’.
After the elections in 2013, a demand was made to reopen four constituencies which was not met resulting the protest and sit-ins across the county.
The objective at that time was to ensure transparency in elections while the objective of electoral reforms at present was also to ensure elections to be conducted in fair manner and strengthen the institutions.
Those making hue and cry about rigging in general elections 2018 had never given any evidence in the election tribunal, he added.
Mumtaz Alvi adds: Speaking on the occasion, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said the government would introduce modern technology in the election process, including legislation, in order to bury the controversy of rigging for good.
He explained that free and transparent elections were prerequisite for democracy and use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) was a way to achieving the desired purpose.
Fawad said the PTI government wanted to introduce a new technology and EVMs, which would give results within half an hour after completion of voting.
This, he believed, would help increase the trust of people, political parties and intelligentsia in the electoral process.
Fawad said the government wanted to go ahead with the electoral reforms with consensus and needed the opposition’s role in this regard.
He said if the opposition did not cooperate, the government will go for it on its own.
He emphasized that if both the PPP and the PML-N were not in favour of giving the voting right to the overseas Pakistanis and their contesting the elections, even then they should come forward and openly explain their position.
The minister made it clear that the government enjoyed majority in the National Assembly and the Senate and hence it did not need the support of the opposition parties for the general electoral reforms, but for two constitutional amendments, their support was imperative.
Referring to the PML-N’s rejection of the use of EVMs in the future elections, the minister insisted that instead of outright rejecting this option, they should seek input from their own technical experts.
Fawad recalled that Imran Khan, in his first speech in the Parliament soon after assuming the office of Prime Minister, went to the Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in the National Assembly and expressed readiness to form a commission on electoral reforms and he had formed a parliamentary committee the same day.
He also made a mention of attempts made by the government on several occasions and the non-cooperation of the opposition, while of late the PPP had named Naveed Qamar as its focal person with regard to the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. But the PML-N, he noted, had not responded to the letter written by the NA Speaker after prime minister had penned a letter to the Speaker for formation of parliamentary panel.
Fawad said a committee was formed to put an end to the story of electoral fraud forever and the same committee had taken four years in the previous government with reference to the general election 2013.
He said to form this committee, the PTI had to stage sit-ins and protests but it formed the committee on the first day after coming to power.
He noted that the prime minister, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser and federal ministers had been appealing to the opposition for electoral reforms, whereas PML-N said it was not ready for talks and that the Election Commission should take up the task.
He wondered how the Election Commission could be moved for the purpose, as legislation was the job of the Parliament.
Replying to a question, the minister said one of the reforms was that demarcation would be carried out on the basis of population and voters in each constituency would be equally distributed to put an end to voter disparity in constituencies.
The minister also ruled out the possibility of hacking of EVMs, as these would not be connected to the internet and would be in the standalone position.
“Therefore, the chances of hacking are zero,” he explained.
He recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first captain in international cricket, who had introduced neutral umpires.
He said after neutral empires and introduction of new technology, the controversy of empires’ bias had ended now.
Fawad said the government wanted that similar fairness should be introduced in the electoral process and electronic voting machines were important in this connection.
He said after 2013 elections, the then rulers took four years for formation of a committee to investigate the rigging allegations.
He said the PML-N claimed that in 2018 general election the RTS system had failed and the committee formed for this purpose asked the stake-holders to bring details of RTS failure and non-submission of Form 45 to the committee but they failed to do so.
He said a total of 25 petitions regarding rigging were filed in Punjab out of which 13 were filed by the PTI candidates and only 11 by the PMLN.
He said in recent Karachi by-elections, the PMLN had accused the PPP of rigging. Fawad said the PTI did its best for open balloting in the Senate election in March and this was also agreed in the Charter of Democracy signed between the PMLN and PPP.
Likewise, he noted that the PMLN in proposed legislation in 2015 had also called for open balloting in Senate elections but when Imran Khan suggested this, they took a U-turn and started opposing it.
The minister then referred to the recent Senate elections and said in Yusuf Raza Gilani’s election as senator and his defeat in the chairman Senate elections, there was a controversy on both occasions.
He said if the political parties continued fighting over the election results, the country would not be able to make progress.
He said Imran Khan wanted that the political parties should sit together for finalization of electoral reforms.
He said the prime minister also issued a tweet for talks on electoral reforms.
The minister said the PML-N said they opposed negotiations and the Election Commission should decide about bringing reforms in the electoral system and this stance was tantamount to undermining the authority of the Parliament.
He said respect of the vote could not be restored unless the Parliament was given respect.
Fawad said it was a fact that the PML-N always came to power through conspiracies but now time had come to rise above personal interests and bringing transparency and fairness in the electoral process for the country’s future.
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