Opposition accuses treasury of ‘bulldozing’ legislation to allow use of EVMs in general elections, grant right to review to convicted Indian spy
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government on Wednesday passed 33 bills in an especially contentious joint sitting of Parliament, hailing it as a “great victory” even as the opposition rejected the legislation by accusing the treasury of “bulldozing” the laws.
The most controversial of the bills passed during the joint session were amendments to the Elections Act, 2017. Under the legislation passed, electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be used to conduct the next general elections and overseas Pakistanis have been granted the right to submit their votes via internet voting.
At the start of the session, Adviser to the P.M. on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan announced that he was deferring the passage of the electoral reforms bill to allow the opposition to present its arguments against it. Immediately after speeches by opposition leaders Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, he presented the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, with the motion passing with a majority of 221 votes in favor and 203 against.
Amendments proposed by opposition lawmakers were rejected via voice vote, with leaders claiming that the votes were counted inaccurately to give the treasury a greater advantage. Nevertheless, the government had a majority over the opposition/
Following the passage of the bill, the Opposition staged a token walkout, allowing the treasury to pass a raft of legislation unopposed. They returned to the House about an hour later and remained till the end of the session.
The International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Bill, 2021, was also passed on Wednesday, granting a right to review and reconsideration to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in line with requirements of the International Court of Justice. Jadhav was sentenced to death by a Military Court in Pakistan in April 2017.
Scenes of chaos
The session turned contentious as the government and opposition faced off over the electoral reforms, with a scuffle breaking out at one point that had to be broken off by security officials. PPP Senator Sherry Rehman specifically called out Speaker Asad Qaiser for “bulldozing” legislation, describing the events as a “black day” in Pakistan’s parliamentary history.
The opposition’s speeches commenced with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, who branded EVMs “evil and vicious machines.” He accused the government of going against parliamentary traditions by passing controversial legislations through force and slammed the speaker for inviting the opposition to talks and then ignoring their response.
In his response to Sharif, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed EVMs would “bury evil and vicious designs.” Claiming it would make the electoral process “transparent,” he said the law would “wipe away the darkness of the past.”
Another controversial point brought up during the joint session was Planning Minister Asad Umar describing the Sindh government’s objections to the National Census-2017 as “baseless”, stressing it had been approved by the Council of Common Interests. “Sindh is politicizing the issue by hatching conspiracies over the exercise,” he alleged and presented a motion to examine the reservations of the Sindh government over the 2017 census process.
Sherry Rehman, in response, accused him of trying to reduce the resources that should be allocated to Sindh on the basis of its population by claiming it had fewer residents than ground realities.
The 33 bills passed by the government in the joint session are as follows:
- The Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The International Court of Justice (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2021)
- The Islamabad Capital Territory Charities Registration, Regulation and Facilitation Bill, 2021
- The SBP Banking Services Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The National College of Arts Institute Bill, 2021
- The Muslim Family Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (Amendment in Section 4)
- The Muslim Family Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (Amendment in Section 7)
- The Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Bill, 2021
- The Hyderabad Institute for Technical and Management Sciences Bill, 2021
- The Islamabad Rent Restriction (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Corporate Restructuring Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Financial Institutions (Secured Transactions) (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Federal Public Service Commission (Validation of Rules) Bill, 2021
- The University of Islamabad Bill, 2021
- The Loans for Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Purposes (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Pakistan Academy of Letters (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Port Qasim Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Gwadar Port Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Maritime Security Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Emigration (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Privatization Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- COVID-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Bill, 2021
- The Al-Karam International Institute Bill, 2021
- The Islamabad Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill, 2021
- The Islamabad Capital Territory Food Safety Bill, 2021
- The Unani, Ayurvedic and Homoeopathic Practitioners (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Provincial Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- The Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Bill, 2021.