Government expresses commitment to hold next elections with reforms

Fawad tells CEC to distance himself from controversial matters or quit his job / Faraz says ECP needs to play its part in technological incorporation

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Sunday said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was committed to move forward with its electoral reforms to hold free, fair, transparent and credible elections utilising modern technology.

Addressing a joint press conference with Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz here, he said the chief election commissioner should distance himself from controversial matters as it was requirement of his post, otherwise he should quit and join politics.

He said that Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and CEC were two different things and the government had strong reservations on the conduct of the CEC. Similarly he said, the opposition should shun narrow minded approach and think in the larger national interest.

He said that the government had given 49 proposals for reforms and the opposition was neither accepting them, nor bringing their own proposals. The CEC has seemingly decided against the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) without even considering the report, he said adding, the CEC scrapped all the supporting arguments in favour of the EVMs from the report to rob it of its substance.

He said that the data of Philippines elections was removed from the record which showed that after introduction of electronic voting system, controversies in election results were reduced.

Fawad said that in 2007, elections in Philippines, which were held under old paper system, results was complied after several days whereas in 2010 and 2019 elections held through EVMs and the results were declared within hours. “People’s trust on 2007 elections in the Philippines was 35 per cent, while they expressed 75 percent and 89 percent satisfaction over results of 2010 2019 respectively. With the introduction of EVM, the election day violence was controlled whereas in 2007 many polling officers lost their lives,” he added.

He said that the debate for reformation of electoral system and introduction of electronic voting machines was not new, adding that ECP had raised few frivolous objections over the use of EVMs in the next general elections.

The minister opined that it appeared that the ECP was using the language of opposition parties. He said that the opposition had the right to openly express its viewpoint but the office bearers of a national institution like ECP could not behave like opposition.

Fawad urged the members of the ECP to review the decisions. He said presently the posts of Punjab and KP members were vacant and fundamental decisions could not be taken.

He said that National Database and Regulation Authority (NADRA) has provided many facilities based on technology, and Pakistan was the first country which introduced machine readable passport.

The minister said that if the ECP would create hurdles in the use of technology, it would result in a new crisis. Criticising the opposition’s attitude, he said that they rejected the EVMs without bothering to attend any demonstration given by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Similarly, he said, the opposition parties participated in the media protest against proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) without going through its details. He also said that they faced humiliation when the media organizations agreed to form a joint committee on PMDA.

Fawad said that the opposition parties were opposing the government for the sake of opposition and they would be ready to join hands with the devil to discredit the incumbent government.

He said that the opposition’s attitude was against the spirit of parliamentary form of democracy in which one has to think above personal interest.

The minister said that everyone believed that there was need of reforming the current electoral system. He said that if the opposition had objections over the government proposals, it should present its own proposals for discussion. He also said that present opposition in Pakistan was one of the worst as its leadership lacked experience and they were not seemed interested to contribute for any improvement in the system.

Fawad said that since 2016 Imran Khan was on record supporting use of EVMs in general elections. He said that the opposition’s obstinacy was resulting in lack of people’s confidence in democracy, adding, in past opposition used to demand reforms in the electoral system and it was for the first time that the sitting government was striving to introduce electoral reforms.

The minister maintained that it was the responsibility of the parliament to decide the process of conducting elections in the country and the ECP should respect the decision. Parliament would decide whether next elections would be held under the traditional voting system or through EVMs, he added.

He said that a joint session of the parliament would be summoned, adding, its decision would be final and binding. He also said that the Supreme Court had issued directives to EVP to use technology in senate elections held in March this year but, its order was neglected.

Fawad said no action was taken by ECP on the video footage related to the proof of sale and purchase of votes in Senate elections for the seat of Yousuf Raza Gillani.

Stating that Pakistan was not a banana republic, he said that the government had shown restraints regarding the remarks of CEC and even tolerated personal attacks on its leadership.

The minister said that few opposition leaders met with National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, who tried to clarify their misconceptions as the government wanted to take opposition along in decision making process.

Fawad said that the government wanted that the speaker’s committee should become functional and opposition should play its positive role to bring about reforms in the election process. However, he made it clear that 2023 elections wouldbe held after electoral reforms and there was no other option available.

Adding to the information minister’s criticism, Faraz said when the 37 objections were analysed, “it was clear that 27 points were a charge-sheet against the ECP itself and highlighted its incapacity. The 10 points on the technical side relating to EVMs had no link to the machine because they did not even bother to look at the machine and see whether the present prototype resolves the points they are mentioning.”

Challenging the objections, the science and technology minister said that the prototype had 100 per cent ballot secrecy, guaranteed voter anonymity and complete transparency, among other security features.

He emphasised that the government’s purpose was not to use that specific machine and that the ECP could choose to use it or not. The broader concept, Faraz said, was the use of technology to resolve problems of political crises as had been witnessed in previous elections.

Faraz alleged that the ECP was not interested or had the intention to carry out electoral reforms which was “very concerning”. He said the ECP would have to show its seriousness in working, increasing its capacity and playing its part in technological incorporation.

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