Pakistan’s National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill to repeal the electoral reforms of the former Imran Khan government that give expatriates the right to vote through i-voting and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the country.
The Election (Amendment) Bill 2022, introduced by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi, was passed by a majority in the lower house, with only members of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) opposing it.
Before introducing the bill, Abbasi passed a proposal to bypass the relevant standing committee and allow the bill to be sent directly to the Senate for approval.
The bill is expected to be sent to the Senate on Friday.
The current National Assembly will complete its five-year term in August next year, followed by a general election. However, the prime minister can dissolve parliament at any time and call for new elections.
Describing the bill as “extremely significant”, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Minister Azam Nazir Tara reminded that the ousted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had made several amendments to the Election Act, 2017, which allowed its use. . EVMs and foreign Pakistanis have been given the right to vote in general elections.
The PTI government made the amendments through the Election (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was bulldozed by the National Assembly on November 17 last year along with 32 other laws, Tarar said.
The minister further said that Thursday’s bill called for reviving the Election Act, 2017 before that amendment to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.
Under the new bill, Tara said, amendments are being made to sections 94 and 103 of the law, both relating to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which operates pilot projects for foreign voting and the use of EVMs.
He said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had expressed inability to conduct elections through i-voting and EVM in a short period of time and without proper homework.
Amendments under Section 94 of the Electoral Act, 2017 suggest that ECP may conduct pilot projects for foreign Pakistanis to vote in by-elections to ensure the technical effectiveness, confidentiality, security and financial viability of such polls and share the results with them. . Government.
It said the report would be tabled in both houses of parliament within 15 days of the start of the session.
According to the law minister, the Election Commission of Pakistan also objected to the use of EVMs.
He made it clear, however, that the government was not opposed to the use of technology and that it was “impossible” to vote in one day using EVMs.
“We are only concerned about the misuse of technology because the results transmission system failed in the last general election for a particular political party,” he said.
He also dismissed the notion that the amendments were aimed at depriving foreign Pakistanis of their right to vote.
“Foreign Pakistanis are a valuable asset to the country and the government does not believe in depriving them of their right to vote,” he said.
The PTI, meanwhile, has strongly criticized the move, calling it a “backward and reprehensible act” by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) -led government.
PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted: “PTI has given more than 9 million foreign Pakistanis the right to vote. Today, this gang of thieves and thugs has removed it, deprived a surprising number of Pakistanis of their right to vote and banned the use of electronic voting machines.” On the other hand, GDA lawmaker Zhaus Bakhsh Meher said that EVMs are being used all over the world and Pakistan should at least try to use them. “If not the whole country, some areas should be used,” he said.
During the National Assembly session, details of expenditure for the next general election are shared.
According to the Electoral Watchdog, the new election will cost about 47.41 billion rupees, of which about 15 billion rupees will be spent on security.
The Election Commission had estimated the cost of conducting electronic voting at Rs 5.6 billion, while printing ballot papers would cost Rs 4.83 billion. In addition, Rs 1.79 billion will be spent on training polling staff.
There are more than 9 million foreign Pakistanis in different counties and Khan enjoys overwhelming support among them.
It is feared that giving them the right to vote could change the results in several constituencies.