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ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs has started discussion on the new proposed electoral reforms, as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan assured the panel that the government would not opt for any amendment contrary to the Constitution.

The Senate panel chaired by Senator Taj Haider had two bills related to amendments in the election laws - a bill further to amend the Election Act, 2017 'The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021,' as passed by National Assembly; and 'The Election (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021,' as passed by the National Assembly - to be briefed by secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, and secretary, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The committee decided to get the briefing first from the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry followed by getting the point of view of the ECP on the proposed amendments.

The committee deferred discussion on the proposed amendments aimed at giving right to vote to overseas Pakistanis and conducting the general elections through electronic voting machines (EVMs) until getting a comprehensive briefing from the ECP, as the members raised observations on the proposed amendments.

During the briefing on the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Khan assured the panel that the government would not seek any amendment in the bill, which would be contrary to the Constitution following members raised objections on various proposed amendments.

He underscored the need for using the latest technology in the election process with a view to ensure transparency. Senator Sania Nishtar, a government member in the committee, who is also Special Assistant of the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, after disagreeing on some of the proposed amendments, asked about those who orchestrated these amendments.

"Who did orchestrate these amendments that we are unable to appreciate?" she asked, adding that it needs to understand as to why it is necessary to bring an amendment for authorising National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to register a voter.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) member of the committee Farooq H Naek also raised objection over the proposed amendment, saying if the work of the ECP is going to be done through the NADRA, then the Election Commission needs to be shutdown.

In his response, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs said that former minister for parliamentary affairs Azam Swati and Law Minister Farogh Naseem had drafted the proposed amendments in the bills and suggested the two ministers could be invited to the committee for a briefing after Eidul Azha.

The Secretary Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Shakeel Malik gave a detailed briefing to the Committee on various provisions of the Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017. He apprised the committee that according to the proposed amendment, the Commission would order elections within 30 days instead of 60 days on any major peculiarity.

He said that the transgression of the code of conduct in the amendment bill can complain only before the polling day. On which, Senator Farooq Hamid Naek suggested lodging a complaint up to seven days before the polling day.

The secretary underlined that under proposed amendments, a CNIC holder may be registered as a voter in the area of his/her permanent or temporary address within the jurisdiction of the NADRA office from where he/she obtains the CNIC.

Naek objected to the proposed amendment, saying that it could be a violation of the Constitution. The secretary further stated that an amendment has been proposed that the NADRA would hand over the list to ECP after the registration of votes.

Regarding the proposed powers to the District Election Commissioner (DRO), Naek maintained the DROs can easily influence the election process, if more powers are given. On the proposed amendments about increasing the fee for contesting elections to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies to Rs50,000 and Rs30,000 respectively, some members raised objection.

The chairman of the committee suggested not increasing the nomination fee for the candidates as majority of the contestant come from poor background. Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar pointed out that in some countries there is no fee for contesting elections; therefore, no one's right should be affected by increasing the fee.

On the proposed amendment that if the returned candidate does not take oath within 60 days the seat shall be considered vacant, Senator Afnanullah Khan and Senator Sania Nishtar raised objections, and said what will happen to the candidate who have serious medical issues. Senator Farooq Naek suggested that the word 'Willfully' should be inserted and the period can also be extended.

It was also suggested to appoint two polling agents instead of one for any candidate during the counting of votes. The secretary Parliamentary Affairs informed that a meeting on electoral reforms with speaker National Assembly is also scheduled to be held later in the day, on which, the Chairman Committee Senator Taj Haider said that the recommendations of the committee should also be put before the relevant committee on electoral reforms.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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