Wednesday Nov 17, 2021
ISLAMABAD: The government passed 33 bills in a joint sitting of the Parliament on Wednesday, with the Opposition rejecting the legislation, saying that the treasury benches had bulldozed the bills.
Among the bills passed, the most crucial were amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, allowing the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote in general elections.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan presented the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 to bring about the required amendments.
The motion to consider the bill was passed with a majority vote as a total of 221 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion while 203 lawmakers opposed it.
Parliament rejected the amendments moved by Opposition lawmakers including MNA Mohsin Dawar, Senator Taj Haider and Mushtaq Ahmed.
Now, after the passage of the Elections Second Amendment Bill, 2021, the Election Commission of Pakistan shall, with the technical assistance of National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) and any other authority or agency, enable overseas Pakistanis in the prescribed manner, subject to secrecy and security, to exercise their right to vote during the general elections, Radio Pakistan reported.
The bill also authorises the ECP to procure electronic voting machines for casting of votes in general elections.
Voting on the bill was earlier deferred after strong protest by the Opposition — at Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan's request as he noted that the Opposition wishes to address the parliament. Thereafter, it was put to vote again.
Following the passing of the bill, the Opposition staged a walkout, saying that National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser was not paying heed to their reservations regarding the government possessing fewer than the required numbers to get the bills passed.
The Opposition members later returned to the House ahead of an expected speech by the prime minister.
According to the orders of the day shared on the National Assembly website, 60 items were on the agenda.
A total of 29 bills appeared on the orders of the day out of which the joint session passed 28 bills, while five bills were considered in the House as supplementary agenda.
Only one bill — the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 — was deferred while the remaining 33 legislative proposals were passed.
The Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser asked opposition lawmakers to remain present on their seats on his left side for count of vote but his directions were not followed and he had to announce the passage of amendments moved by the government through voice voting.
Later, there was a hue and cry and exchange of hot words, with treasury members banging their desks triumphantly.
The International Court of Justice (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2021, that allows the right to review and reconsideration to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav was one of the major bills passed in the Parliament.
The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that the government of India initiated proceedings against Pakistan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), concerning alleged violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963 ”in the matter of detention and trial of an Indian national, Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav”, who had been sentenced to death by the Military Court in Pakistan in April 2017.
The ICJ gave its judgment on July 17, 2019, wherein it observed that “Pakistan is under an obligation to provide by means of its own choosing effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Jadhav, so as to ensure that full weight is given to the effect of the violation of the rights set forth in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, taking account of paragraphs 139, 145 and 146 of this judgment”.
The Opposition resorted to a strong protest after the government bulldozed the bills, with the Opposition and treasury benches coming face-to-face and a scuffle breaking out.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman slammed the speaker for bulldozing the legislation, saying today is a "black day" in parliamentary history.
Meanwhile, at one point, the speaker decided he would no longer be chairing the proceedings after the passage of important legislation. In his stead, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani led the process.
Later on, the speaker returned to resume charge of chairing the proceedings.
Earlier in the session, as PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif addressed the house, he called electronic voting machines "evil and vicious machines".
The government wants to bulldoze bills, which is "illegal" and against parliamentary traditions, the Opposition leader said.
He said that a joint meeting was announced at 10pm, and regretted that the meeting was postponed.
Shahbaz referred to a letter sent to him by the NA speaker.
"I have received your letter. We have carefully considered your letter and given you the full answer. I commend the Opposition members for not coming under government pressure," he told the speaker.
Shahbaz also referred to a letter written by him expressing his grievances over the hurry in passing the bills without a consensus.
Shahbaz said that the government was not being sincere in creating consensus on electoral reforms.
In his response to Shahbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that EVMs were not actually evil and vicious and that they were being introduced to "bury evil and vicious designs".
He called the day "historic", saying that Parliament will pass laws to make the electoral process "clean and transparent".
"Shahbaz said that the government wanted to introduce a black law. Absolutely not, the government wants to wipe away the darkness of the past," FM Qureshi said.
The minister insisted that the government did not want to bulldoze legislation, and said that they had consulted Opposition members so that their reservations could be incorporated into the bills. "You didn't pay attention."
Addressing Speaker Qaiser, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto started his speech by requesting him to "respect his own chair", "respect his own position" and "respect the House".
He reminded the speaker that he is the custodian of the National Assembly of Pakistan and had agreed in writing with the Opposition that whatever legislation is brought in, will be done with consensus.
He said that a united Opposition was standing before the House today.
"If we were all legislating together, the next election would have been transparent," Bilawal said.
Speaking about the EVM, he said even the Election Commission of Pakistan has rejected it, adding that ECP had raised 37 serious objections over the machine.
He said the government is making the next election controversial and gave an ultimatum that they will not accept the next election if the bill for EVMs is passed.
Bilawal said they will stand by the ECP. "As long as the ECP has reservations, we have reservations," Bilawal said.
Bilawal concluded his speech with a repetition of his request to the speaker to "please, respect your chair and position".
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said objections raised by Sindh government on National Census-2017 are "baseless" as it was approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI).
"Sindh is politicising the issue by hatching conspiracies over the exercise," he said.
He presented a motion in the House to look into the reservations of the Sindh province over the 2017 census process.
He said the annulment of the 2017 census would have led to a greater loss for the Sindh province, resulting in the restoration of constituencies based on the 1998 process that would have remarkably brought down the number of their seats.
“We have two options: either to dismiss the entire process or approve it and move forward for a more transparent process later,” he said.
He said that the census was conducted during the previous regime and rather than deciding on it they left the matter over to the next government.
Ahead of today’s joint session of Parliament, PM Imran Khan said that every player tries to do better than their opponent.
Talking to journalists at Parliament House, PM Imran Khan said that when a player walks out to the field, he is ready for everything.
Referring to the prime minister’s marathon huddles before the joint session, when a journalist asked a question about the reason behind the meetings and whether he was worried, PM Imran replied, "Who is holding meetings?”