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ISLAMABAD: Amid hullabaloo stirred by the opposition’s strong protests, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani allowed on Friday the presentation of two highly-controversial bills—The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 and The National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2022, without referring them to the relevant committees, leading to their passage by majority vote in the upper house of Parliament.

Both the bills were passed by the National Assembly just a day earlier on Thursday.The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 seeks reversal of the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voting rights to overseas Pakistanis through internet voting (i-voting) in the next general elections.

The National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2022 mainly seeks to clip the key powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in probing mega corruption cases. The house plunged into furore during Senate proceedings when Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi moved the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022. He requested the chairman Senate to allow the presentation of the bill without referring it to the relevant standing committee.

This attracted the ire of opposition senators led by Leader of the Opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem who strongly opposed the presentation of the bill bypassing the relevant committee. Leader of the House Azam Tarar said that the bill was passed by the relevant NA committee. The opposition senators rejected this explanation and said that the bill, as per standard practice, be referred to the Senate standing committee for a thorough review.

NA okays Election Act amendment that seeks to scrap electronic voting

However, the chairman held voting on whether the leave should be granted to present the bill. The leave to grant the bill was approved by a majority vote, following which, the bill was presented andalso passed by a majority vote. “We would not allow nine million overseas Pakistanis to be deprived of their voting right by this government,” the opposition leader said in his speech before the bill was passed.

“The overseas Pakistanis contribute significantly to Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan is economically surviving by virtue of the financial support of overseas Pakistanis. Our government granted them voting right keeping in view that they are an integral part of this country. We would not let this imported puppet government rob them of their right to vote,” he said.

The charged opposition senators circled the chairman Senate’s desk, chanted anti-government slogans and tore apart the copies of the house business agenda.

The opposition senators also strongly protested against an increase of 30 rupees per litre in fuel prices. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senators, Ejaz Chaudhary and Dr Zarqa Suharwardy chanted slogans “zalimojawab do; mehngaikahisab do.”

In a bid to pacify the angry senators, Tarar said, the voting right to overseas Pakistanis was not taken from them in the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022. Only i-voting was removed while the overseas Pakistanis still had the right to vote by other means instead of i-voting, he said. On EVMs, Tarar passed the buck on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), saying, the electoral body is not in a position to hold general elections on EVMs.

The leader of the house, who also holds the portfolio of Law Minister, said PTI senators, Shibli Faraz and Azam Swati were part of the panel that approved this bill. This infuriated Faraz who responded that he strongly opposed the bill in the committee meetings.

After the passage of the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022, the leader of the house presented the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2022. Again, this bill was not referred to the relevant Senate standing committee, and put up for passage, by the chairman Senate.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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