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EDITORIAL: Railways Minister Azam Swati, who wanted to set ablaze the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), has changed his mind; now only Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sultan Sikandar Raja is his target. On Monday, he spoke at length against the CEC, accusing him of “messing around” with the opposition. It is, however, important to note that he has been served a notice to provide proof of his earlier diatribe against the commission and its chief. “We don’t have a quarrel with ECP, but with Raja Sultan,” he thundered at a presser. This was the federal ministers’ third presser on the issue of electoral reforms through which they have insisted that use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) as voting booths is the only option if the nation wants next general elections to be free, fair and impartial. The opposition, otherwise divided on many other issues, is absolutely unanimous in opposing the use of EVMs. Add to this Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s warning that if EVMs are not used there would be no general election in 2023. Factor in this conundrum the Planning Minister Asad Umar’s intriguing take that next elections will be held on the basis of a consensus which for now is nowhere in sight. What’s the government’s game plan then? Is it that the government has come to realise that its performance over the last three years cannot brighten its electoral prospects? Otherwise, the EVM isn’t as indispensable in a functioning democracy as it is being made out. This very government didn’t object to any aspect of conduct of last general election even when there was no use of EVMs. Chief Election Commissioner Sultan Sikandar Raja was the government’s nominee for the ECP’s top slot. But now Azam Swati and his colleagues are not short of stories of his alleged involvement in politics. Is it because the commission has certain reservations on the electoral reforms package and use of EVMs? That holding fair, free and impartial elections is ECP’s exclusive responsibility or preserve is fact. The opposition’s rejection of the government’s draft of electoral reforms and use of electronic voting machines is no doubt a cause of concern and distress for the government, but it must also accept that opposition’s stance is within the limits of a democratic system. Proverbially, the opposition must oppose everything and propose nothing. And more so now as Advisor Babar Awan wants to form a joint parliamentary committee to clinch consensus on electoral reforms and speaker Asad Qaisar has obliged. What he offered with one hand he withdrew it with other. Not only did he call the opposition’s rejection of EVMs “morally incorrect”, he also threatened that the government would now proceed for electoral reforms and use of EVMs “at every cost because more than four years have been wasted”. This is not how parliamentary democracies function. After the frequent undemocratic spells, the country is now a working democracy. After two democracy-enriched terms of today’s political opposition the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is now in power, and despite its multiple governance failures it is likely to complete its five-year constitutional tenure. Unfortunately, however, the government is treating the opposition with total contempt or disdain.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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