Pakistan's national assembly approves bill to bar overseas citizens from voting, stop use of EVMs

ISLAMABADEdited By: Nikhil PandeyUpdated: May 27, 2022, 01:15 PM IST

Representative Image. Photograph:(AFP)

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Thursday's bill sought to revive the Elections Act, 2017 in the shape prior to those amendments, ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections.

On Thursday, Pakistan's National Assembly passed a law repealing former Prime Minister Imran Khan's election reforms, which gave foreigners the ability to vote via I-Voting and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the country.

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi's Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 was passed by a majority vote in the lower house, with only members of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) voting against it.

Before submitting the measure, Abbasi proposed a move that would allow the law to be brought to the Senate for approval without going through the relevant standing committee.

According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, the bill will be forwarded to the Senate on Friday.

Azam Nazeer Tarar, a minister in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), described the bill as "extremely significant," recalling that the ousted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had made numerous amendments to the Election Act, 2017, including those that allowed the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and gave overseas Pakistanis the right to vote in general elections.

The revisions were enacted by the PTI administration through the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, which it rammed through the National Assembly with 32 other bills on November 17, last year, according to Tarar.

The minister also stated that Thursday's measure aimed to restore the Elections Act of 2017 to its original form, assuring free, fair, and transparent elections.

Two adjustments to Sections 94 and 103 of the statute are being made under the new bill, according to Tarar, both of which deal with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) undertaking pilot projects for overseas voting and the use of EVMs.

He said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had also expressed its inability to hold elections through I-Voting and EVMs in a short span of time and without proper homework.

The amendment under Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017, suggests the ECP may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government.

It said the report would be laid before both houses of Parliament within 15 days from the commencement of a session of each house.

According to the law minister, the Election Commission of Pakistan had also raised objections to the use of EVMs.

He, however, clarified that the government was not against the use of the technology, and that holding polls using EVMs on a single day was "impossible".

"We only have concerns about the misuse of technology as the results transmission system has failed in the last general elections to favour a particular political party," he said.

He also dispelled the impression that the amendments were aimed at depriving overseas Pakistanis of their right to vote.

"Overseas Pakistanis are a precious asset to the country and the government does not believe in snatching their right to vote," he said.

Meanwhile, the PTI has strongly criticised the move and termed it a "regressive and condemnable act" by the government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Prime Minister Shehbaz Sherif.

PTI vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted: "PTI gave over nine million overseas Pakistanis the right to vote." Today, this band of thieves and thugs removed it, disenfranchising a staggering number of Pakistanis and barring the use of electronic voting machines. "

GDA lawmaker Ghous Bakhsh Mehr, on the other hand, said that EVMs were being used across the world and Pakistan should at least try using them.

"If not the whole country, then use them in some areas," he said.

During the National Assembly session, details of the expenses for the next general elections were shared.

According to the electoral watchdog's estimates, fresh polls will cost about Rs 47.41 billion, of which around Rs 15 billion will be for ensuring security.

The election commission had estimated the cost of conducting electronic voting at Rs 5.6 billion, while printing ballot papers would cost Rs 4.83 billion.

Further, Rs 1.79 billion would be spent on training polling staff.

(With inputs from agencies)


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