Opposition claims ‘victory,’ maintaining that government has been ‘run away’ due to its united strategy
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government on Wednesday abruptly postponed a joint session of Parliament scheduled for today (Thursday) after failing to ensure the presence of sufficient treasury lawmakers to ensure the passage of several controversial bills, including the use of electronic voting machines in the next general elections.
“Electoral reforms is an issue linked to the country’s future. We are working in good faith to reach a consensus [with the opposition] on this issue,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain announced on Twitter. He claimed National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had been asked to contact the opposition once again to achieve consensus on poll reforms bills.
“We hope that the opposition will seriously consider these crucial reforms so that we can come up with a strategy for the country’s future,” he said, adding that the joint session was being “deferred” to achieve this. He claimed the government would not backtrack on its poll reforms even if no consensus were possible.
The timing of Fawad’s statement raised eyebrows, as mere hours earlier Prime Minister Imran Khan had addressed a gathering of parliamentarians belonging to the PTI and its allied parties and urged them to attend the next day’s session by likening poll reforms to “jihad.” Claiming the EVMs—widely criticized by the opposition as a potential tool for electoral rigging—were a step toward free and fair elections, he alleged that the initiative’s detractors only wanted to oppose it for their “vested” interests.
“The objective of the electoral reforms is to uphold the spirit of democracy and give the coming generations a system based on the morality of truth and honesty,” he said, and referred to bribery in Senate polls as evidence the system did not function. He did not make any reference to a recent Election Commission of Pakistan report that found that the PTI had tried to rig the Daska by-elections.
According to sources within the government, the PTI’s allied parties had sought more time for consultations before they would commit to voting in favor of EVMs. The Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), in particular, has stressed that it was not consulted on the reforms prior to convening the joint session and would not vote for any measure without discussing it with the party leadership. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, too, has recently issued statements warning it is “reconsidering” its alliance with the PTI.
Opposition hails victory
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Peoples Party—the country’s two biggest opposition parties—both hailed the government’s decision, claiming it had “run away” due to a successful strategy to reach out to government allies and ensure the presence of opposition lawmakers in Parliament.
In an address to media after hosting a dinner for members of the opposition, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari claimed their contacts with government allies had forced the PTI to cancel the joint session. He claimed the allied parties had been convinced about the potential dangers of EVMs, adding that the opposition had now decided to make joint decisions on any talks with the government.
“We are getting good results from the unity of opposition in the parliament,” he said, adding the government had already been defeated in the National Assembly on Tuesday and again on Wednesday when it postponed the joint session. On Tuesday, the government was twice defeated by the opposition in the National Assembly during voting on motions seeking introduction of two bills.
In his statement on the joint session’s cancellation, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif said it showed the government had been beaten on the legislation it sought to bulldoze through Parliament. He reiterated calls for Imran Khan should resign after losing the trust of his lawmakers. “The hasty convening of joint meeting and then the hasty adjournment show the seriousness of the government that has made sensitive and serious issues like legislation a child’s play,” he added.