Though the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was overjoyed after outnumbering the combined opposition in the parliament, it was a moment when democratic institutions and norms were in peril. What happened during the joint session of the parliament on 17th November was indeed a fatal blow to democracy. It defeated the basic principles of democracy, which is ‘… for the people’. In any decision that directly affects the general public, consensus instead of conflict should be the choice. In such cases, a shift from a consensual mode to a majoritarian and politicized mode always creates a controversy resulting in chaos and confusion.
Out of 33 bills passed in the joint session, two were not only highly controversial, but have direct bearing on the voters which will eventually make the election results controversial. These pertain to the use of electronic voting machines and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis, contained in the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, which the PTI government desperately passed despite the opposition’s vociferous objections and the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) reservations.
There’s no denying the fact that the PTI somehow managed – with the support of its allies – to get the required number of votes in the joint session of the Parliament to successfully pass 33 bills, but the way the Bills were hurriedly presented, was indeed crude and above all, in defiance of the set norms of the proceedings in the Parliament. It also spoke clearly about the government’s capricious conduct. malicious intentions.
Passing these Bills through the majority vote is technically correct, but it will remain controversial and problematic, making the 2023 general elections disputed. So, instead of ensuring a free and fair elections through these two Bills, the government may end up facing outright rejection of results from the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) Pakistan, which provides parliamentary, governance, political and elections oversight and reforms in Pakistan, thus putting a seal on ‘unfair election’.
It seems likely that all political parties except PTI may boycott the elections. Election boycott is generally frowned upon in a functioning democracy, because participation is the heart of the democratic process. However, boycotts have a role to play wherever or whenever democracy is not allowed to function as it should be, and where fair competition is impossible. The problem lies in determining at what point conditions for a fair election are being violated to such an extent that a boycott is justifiable. In this particular case, it definitely is.
Since the two controversial Bills have put the entire democratic system on trial, there seems to be a valid reason for a boycott. To better understand the process of democratic decision-making, let’s talk about what consensus and majority vote mean. A consensus means that mostly everyone in the group is in agreement on the issue, there has been careful discussion and no stone has been left unturned. Unfortunately, all the Bills were passed abruptly, without giving even an hour to discuss the pros and cons of these Bills.
PTI wanted to pass the two controversial bills in a rush through this massive legislative agenda of 33 Bills in a single joint session of parliament. As they say, act in haste, repent at leisure.
Time and again, PTI has shown little patience for parliamentary conventions. As such, the ordinances promulgated by the PTI government have outnumbered the laws passed by the National Assembly. The official data shows that the government mostly depended on promulgation of ordinances for doing legislation and issued a total of 31 ordinances as compared to seven during the last parliamentary year, despite severe criticism by opposition parties. Most of the Assembly sittings were, therefore, marred by ruckus due to the tense atmosphere in the house, with the treasury and opposition members even coming to blows on a couple of occasions.
Meanwhile, the Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan has informed the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice that the EVM bill has been passed but the Election Commission is not bound to conduct the next election in accordance with EVM, electronic voting. Whether the machine will be used in the next general election or not cannot be said yet, as there are challenges in the use of EVM.
The report further adds that before the use of EVM in general elections, 14 steps have to be taken, three to four more pilot projects related to the use of EVM have to be done, how many electronic voting machines there will be in a polling station remains to be figured out.
The meeting of the committee was held under the chairmanship of Chairman Riaz Fatyana at Parliament House. The committee is angry at the Law and Justice Commission for not submitting proposals for judicial reform, pending cases and appointment of judges.
After all is said and done, with the Secretary Election Commission’s inability to conduct elections according to new law, it seems that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) Bill will have to be held in abeyance.
The writer is Sub-Editor, Bol News