The Prime Minister is in a hurry to get electoral reforms enacted. He conveyed his wishes to S&T Minister Fawad Chaudhary who passed the buck to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser. The Speaker offered the Opposition unlimited time for debate, considering it a sufficiently generous offer to bring the opposition round. Both the PML(N) and PPP rejected the Speaker’s offer out of hand despite their ongoing infighting.
Not that electoral reforms are not required. As there are enough loopholes in the electoral system, election results continue to be challenged by the losing parties. The use of money to win a seat is not confined to the Senate alone as the PM thinks. Elections at all levels— national, provincial and local— are becoming highly costly, with the so called electables and local elite crowding out the middle class candidates. The role of muscle power and government machinery for the influential people also needs to be controlled. The PM favours Electronic Voting Machines which are shunned by a majority of the most technologically developed countries for not ensuring public scrutiny and transparency. Before being introduced the reforms need to be debated in Parliament.
What stands in the way is the absence of a climate conducive for civilized debate in the National Assembly. During more than two years of its rule the PTI leadership has used the House to spread hatred against the opposition leadership. PTI MNAs were encouraged to take recourse to unparliamentary language, thus adding to the bad blood. Instead of acting independently, the Speaker sided openly with the PTI’s loose guns. He violated parliamentary traditions by refusing to allow the Leader of the Opposition to speak and by declining to order the production of Opposition MNAs languishing in custody.
There is a dire need for debate on national issues in Parliament. For this the PM has to take an initiative to reduce the extreme polarization currently prevailing both inside and outside the Parliament The Speaker has to follow parliamentary rules, procedures and precedents. What is more, he has to be seen to be an independent custodian of the House rather than a died-in-the-wool PTI leader. Unless an atmosphere conducive for serious debate is created by the ruling party it would be difficult to pass not only constitutional amendments, but also ordinary laws.