In a sheer display of loyalty to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar announced the holding of Local Government elections in the province through the electronic voting machines (EVMs), thus upstaging the KP Chief minister. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has directed Mr Buzdar to get the Punjab Local Govt Act (PLGA) passed within a week, warning that in case of failure to do so, the elections would be held under the old laws. Mr Buzdar has approved amendments to the PLGA in haste. This has led the PML(Q) as well as the opposition parties to protest at not having been consulted before preparing the draft. The Punjab government claims that a delegation has met and removed the reservations of Ch Parvez Elahi. However a confirmation from the PML(Q) has yet to come. The PML(N) and the PPP have meanwhile strongly rejected the Punjab government’s plans to bulldoze an important legislation.
Federal Minister Shibli Faraz has clarified that talk stopping ECP funds was no more than an informal chat among some ministers during Mr Khan’s short absence from the Cabinet meeting, indicating that the federal government has stepped back from its policy of confrontation with the ECP. How long the change in policy persists remains to be seen.
The ECP has constituted three high-level committees to assess the feasibility of introducing the electronic voting system in the next general election. To start with, the ECP has conveyed to the government that it would take an initial amount of Rs59 billion to purchase the EVMs, set up a data centre and install a system for e-voting. Other issues are likely to turn up as the ECP’s committees probe the details.
The govt has set up an Information Committee under Federal Minister Shibli Faraz to review the demands and reservations of the ECP. The biggest reservation appears to be that the ECP is being required to do in less than two years what took other countries years of experimentation to remove the snags and build up public trust in EVMs. What is more the govt’s haste is leading it to steamroller the entire opposition comprising nearly half of the country’s legislators. Many think the govt should give more time to ECP to test and improve the system, meanwhile postponing the introduction of EVM’s in the next elections.