The government on Wednesday managed to bulldoze amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, in the joint session of parliament, allowing the use of electronic voting machines and granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.

Shehbaz Sharif: “Electronic voting machines should be called evil and vicious machines.”

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly (NA) Shehbaz Sharif termed electronic voting machines (EVMs) “evil and vicious machines” and accused the government of not being sincere in creating a consensus on electoral reforms in the joint session.

Stating that the government was bulldozing important bills, he said that it was “illegal” and that it was equivalent to spoiling the traditions of the house.

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“You [Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser] sent a letter to me and the whole joint Opposition,” he said, adding that in response he submitted a comprehensive answer with “great suggestions”. “But you cancelled your contact and we received no answer from you.”

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“This is the first time in history that there are allegations of rigging before the elections.”

Shehbaz said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for carrying out fair and transparent elections, had also expressed its reservations about EVMs. “They [govt] want to pass these laws despite their [ECP] reservations.”

He said that the party that had once talked about democracy, transparency, and change, now wanted to pass “black laws”.

“If you allow this black law to be passed, then Pakistan will be severely damaged for which responsibility will be on you and them,” he said while addressing Qaiser.

“If the government used the energy that it is spending on this issue to tackle inflation, then we might have seen a difference. But they are not concerned. They are only concerned with remaining in power without securing the people’s vote.”

In response to the Leader of the Opposition, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi presented from the government’s side.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi: “Govt wants to wash away blackness of past.”

“Shehbaz said that the government wanted to introduce a black law. Absolutely not, the government wants to wash away the blackness of the past,” said Qureshi.

Qureshi rejected the notion that the government had previously cancelled the joint session because it did not have majority support said, “If we didn’t have the numbers, then how are we presenting these bills today? There is solidarity in government ranks and our allies are standing with us.”

“You call EVMs ‘evil and vicious machines’ and that is your right. But EVMs are not evil and vicious machines, they are being introduced to bury evil and vicious designs.”

Following Qureshi’s address, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was asked to deliver his speech.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari: “[Speaker AsadQaiser] Respect your own chair, position.”

Addressing the Speaker Asad Qaiser, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto requested him to “respect his own chair”, “respect his own position” and “respect the House”.

Bilawal criticised the government’s “one-sided” electoral reforms which have never been witnessed in the country’s history.

Referring to the government of former PM Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal said: “If that government had unilaterally decided and used the majority to force reforms, then the PTI and the PPP would not have been able to do anything.”

“If they had decided to introduce a constitutional amendment, then we would have to accept their decision. But they achieved a consensus,” he said.

“If we were all legislating together, the next election would have been transparent,” Bilawal said.

“If we carried out reforms together then the next election would not be controversial and it would have been Khan Sahab’s success.”

He said the government is making the next election controversial and gave an ultimatum that they will not accept the next election if the bill for EVMs is passed.

Bilawal said they will stand by the ECP. “As long as the ECP has reservations, we have reservations,” Bilawal said.

“How can we accept your suggestion where Pakistanis sitting in Paris, California and Britain decide for the people of Karachi and the tribal areas? They should have their own electoral college.”

Bilawal further said that the government had given a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav.

“If you have to give relief to anyone then it should be the poor people of Pakistan who are facing a multitude of problems […] how can you expect that we will permit you to use this House to give an NRO to that Indian spy?”