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ISLAMABAD: The joint opposition, on Thursday, reiterated their concerns over the legislation passed by the government from the joint sitting of the parliament a day earlier, describing the move as “worse than martial laws”, which they vowed to challenge at every relevant forum including the Supreme Court.

Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of the steering committee of the joint parliamentary opposition, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Sherry Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Shahida Akhtar Ali, and other leaders strongly condemned the government for “bulldozing” the parliamentary rules under a “pre-planned conspiracy” to “plunder” the next elections through electronic voting machines (EVMs), despite reservations by other stakeholders, including by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Sherry Rehman accused the government of trampling democratic norms through its “artificial majority”. “Whatever happened was worse than martial law and the government made an attempt to rig the next elections,” she said while referring to the joint sitting of the parliament on Wednesday, when the government got passed around 33 bills.

“What happened yesterday will go down as a “black day” in Pakistan’s history, where a red line was crossed. The world saw the worst demonstration of Pakistan’s government pass controversial, polarising legislation with an artificial majority created by coercion and carrots,” she alleged.

She added that despite contested counting in a joint session held together by scores of sergeants at arms to protect a “partisan” speaker, they went ahead to “bulldoze” their bills amid protests, in one of the worst subversions of parliamentary democracy Pakistan has ever seen.

“Let it also be put on record that no election law has ever passed without consensus and agreement by all stakeholders. No election can be held on these laws. This is a recipe for sowing chaos in Pakistan. Political engineering of this kind has yielded disastrous results for Pakistan before, as well, but the country has never been as weak and divided as today. Further machinations may take a terrible toll,” she warned.

She said that this has been done despite the ECP’s categorical warnings that the EVM is impossible to prevent hacking and tempering with the machines in the elections.

“We are not “scared of technology”, but the EVM technology is clearly being set up as a doorway to rigging while voters’ lists going to a government department like NADRA [National Database Registration Authority]is a macabre joke, which won’t survive any independent scrutiny or judicial appeal to reverse. It cannot be used for the next general elections on the whims of this government,” she said. She said that the project is not even financially feasible as there are approximately 100,000 polling stations and 400,000 polling booths.

“If separate machines were used for National Assembly and provincial assembly elections then 900,000 machines would be required which will approximately cost Rs150 billion and Rs1.5-2 lakh each. Do we have this kind of money to waste? The taxpayer’s money is not for dubious political engineering projects,” she added.

“Though it is quite obvious that without the forced attendance of allies and members, the EVM bill would not have passed, but nervous and isolated governments do bizarre things, and in doing so get further exposed. Germany, Italy and the US have all rejected the EVMs but this government is adamant to go ahead with them. Why are they so scared of the votes? The truth is that people have rejected them,” she added.

She maintained: “All the institutes have been paralysed by this government. Be it the parliament or the economy of the country, the government is unable to run both. It seems as if Pakistan is being run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”

She said that petrol prices are going down in the international markets, whereas, in Pakistan there is a constant increase in the price which impacts every sector. Unemployment and inflation have broken all past records. “Is there anything right this government can do,” she questioned.

“It takes months to pass a bill whereas, they have passed 33 bills in a day, it is shocking that bills are bulldozed in a terrible travesty of parliamentary norms, democracy, and basic rules of procedure. We do not accept any law passed by the selected government,” she added.

“Now, we have decided to approach every forum for challenging these laws and the pre-planned conspiracy of rigging … He [Imran Khan] would sit and hide inside Bani Gala and the nation would witness what a “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” is waiting for him to happen,” Sherry added.

Ahsan Iqbal said that November 17 would be remembered as a “black day”, adding that government has not only bulldozed the Constitution, the parliamentary legislation, all the democratic norms, but also bulldozed the procedure of general elections in the country.

“Any election to be held under these laws would be controversial, because the government alone is not a stakeholder in holding the elections and the major stakeholder is ECP under the Constitution,” he said, adding that the government set aside the ECP’s reservations.

He said that under this legislation, such amendments have been incorporated into the law, which require two-thirds majority in the house.

He also maintained that the EVMs could be tampered with to manipulate election results, adding that the results could be doctored through changing a chip in EVMs. “That’s the reason most countries have discarded these machines,” he said.

“Pakistan, being a “beggar” in technology and Germany is the “king” of it. The Supreme Court in Germany termed that EVMs cannot keep the secrecy of people’s vote and hence declared it unconstitutional,” he further maintained.

He insisted that elections could only be held under laws agreed to by all stakeholders concerned. “The opposition believes the judiciary would uphold the Constitution,” he said, adding that the opposition would approach every relevant forum including the judiciary against these measures.

“It’s a bit ‘embarrassing’ when an issue of a parliament would now be decided by the judiciary,” he added. He alleged that the chairman NADRA was allegedly using organisational resources and data for the government’s campaign for the forthcoming elections.

“If NADRA is found leaking national data to the government, it will be liable to face treason charges,” he warned. To a question about any plan to move a no confidence motion against NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, he said that the PDM steering committee has been instructed to look into the matter as what measures the opposition can do against the speaker.

To another query with regard to the legislation relegated to giving right to review to the arrested Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in line with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgement, he said that there was no need of new and person-specific legislation, adding that the already existed laws could be applied to fulfil the international obligation.

On the laws to give overseas Pakistanis right to vote, he maintained that the government is making political point scoring, adding that “they don’t even know how to put in place a secure procedure of the vote for the overseas Pakistanis.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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