At a time when relations between the PTI-led government and opposition are marked by total confrontation, any sign of willingness to discuss how the next elections are to be held needs to be welcomed. Suddenly, surprising even some opposition leaders, the government side and the opposition have agreed to set up a parliamentary committee comprising legislators from both the National Assembly and Senate to discuss electoral reforms. This is so far no more than an agreement in principle. With the devil lying in the details, it remains to be seen how far it can go. The question becomes all the more relevant as on the same day Prime Minister Imran Khan has fired a salvo on the opposition, saying that only those benefitting from a corrupt system are opposing the Electronic Voting Machines that he is completely sold on. It appears however that the government has forgone, at least for the time being, the option of steamrollering its electoral reforms bills through a joint session of Parliament which would have added more fuel to the fire.
The meeting where the agreement was reached comprised the National Assembly Speaker, two PTI ministers, two PML(N) parliamentarians and one each from the PPP and the JUI(F). The easy part of the job has been done, with the mechanics of forming the committee agreed. It was decided that motions would be moved in both Houses for the constitution of the committee. It was also decided that the National Assembly Speaker would be authorised to nominate members of the committee in consultation with the parliamentary leaders. There was an agreement on the committee’s scope also: evaluation of the shortcomings of previous elections, making recommendations to ensure that elections are free, fair and transparent, drafting legislation, or constitutional amendments if required, and recommending ways and means to improve the electoral system including adoption of the latest technology available for holding elections. So far so good
But then there are difficulties ahead stemming from persisting suspicions, bitter rivalries and fixed positions. Which side, government or opposition, will have a majority of seats in the committee? If equal, which side will hold the committee chairman’s slot? PML(N) senior vice president Khaqan Abbasi wants a parliamentary committee that does not have Treasury members in majority. Again, will there be more agreements than disagreements in the report prepared by the committee?