Government set to pass controversial electoral reforms bill, as opposition parties threaten protests, disruptions in Parliament
President Arif Alvi is set to address a joint session of Parliament today (Monday) amidst threats of disruptions by the opposition and an ongoing protest by journalists against the government’s proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority.
According to a government notification, the president has summoned both houses of Parliament at Parliament House at 4 p.m. in light of the powers conferred upon him by Article 56(3) of the Constitution. His address, occurring a month later than initially planned, would mark the official start of the fourth parliamentary year of the incumbent government.
Last week, Adviser to the P.M. on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan announced at a press conference that the government would use the joint sitting to approve controversial election reforms, including the use of electronic voting machines in the next general elections and granting overseas Pakistanis the right to internet voting. The Election Commission of Pakistan has already voiced its objection to the government’s legislation, stressing that it leaves many lacunae and requires more consideration before being implemented. Opposition parties, meanwhile, have described the government’s emphasis on the use of EVMs as “proof” that it is planning on using the devices to rig the next elections in its favor.
The government, meanwhile, maintains that the use of EVMs is the only way to ensure free, fair and transparent elections—despite the ECP stressing that it would actually become more difficult to resolve allegations of electoral fraud through the devices developed by the Science and Technology Ministry.
Over the weekend, opposition parties’ spokespersons announced they would demonstrate against the president’s speech, adding that they would also stage a walk-out and join in the protests of the journalists’ community outside Parliament House. Even if a walk-out is staged, the government and its allied parties have sufficient numbers in the two Houses to pass the legislation.
Alongside the opposition’s rancor against the elections bill, journalists, members of civil society and rights organizations are staging a sit-in outside Parliament to voice their protest over the government’s proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). In a statement, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has urged all stakeholders to join the protest, stressing that the proposed legislation is tantamount to a muzzled media entirely beholden to the state.
“It is time to demonstrate unity for a common cause. The proposed PMDA will not just be a body to regulate the media sector but will serve as the central censorship office of the state aimed at regulating the freedoms of expression of all citizens of Pakistan,” read the statement.
All opposition parties have already rejected the proposed PDMA bill, adding that they would join journalists at the sit-in to voice their protest.