The treasury and opposition benches in the National Assembly have agreed to form a joint parliamentary committee to discuss electoral reforms – a revelation that comes a day after several opposition leaders had denied a meeting between the two sides.
On Monday, key leaders of the PPP and PML-N had refuted the claim of PM’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan that the government and opposition had met last week to discuss electoral reforms.
The adviser had claimed that lawmakers from both sides had agreed that a committee comprising members from both the upper and lower houses of parliament would be formed to work on the reforms.
He added that the opposition wanted to call a joint parliamentary committee of both the houses and present both the bills before them.
A statement from the National Assembly on Tuesday confirmed that it had been decided that the motions would be moved in both the houses for constitution of the committee.
It has also been decided that the National Assembly speaker would be authorised to nominate members of the electoral reforms committee in consultation with the parliamentary leaders.
The statement read that the parliamentary representatives from the treasury and the opposition met National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in Parliament House on Tuesday evening, where matters related to electoral reforms came under discussion.
The parliamentarians, who met the speaker, included Defence Minister Pervez Khattak; Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood; JUI-F MNA Shahida Akthar Ali; PPP MNA Naveed Qamar; and PML-N’s Rana Tanvir Hussain and Murtaza Javed Abbasi.
Soon after the news conference by the PM’s adviser and Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati on Monday, the opposition leaders had questioned the credibility of the claim as well as the government’s intention to take along the opposition on electoral reforms.
During the news conference, Awan had said the government had contacted the opposition last week on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying the government was ready to take confidence-building measures on the reforms.
PPP General Secretary Farhatullah Babar and senior leader Nayyer Hussain Bokhari had refuted the claim.
“If he [Awan] claims that a meeting took place, then it is for him to say when, where and who attended [it],” said Babar.
Similarly, PML-N’s former Sindh governor Mohammad Zubair had said “Awan is just giving a spin” as “there is no truth in his claim that a meeting took place between the government and the opposition”.
During the news conference, Awan, while sharing the news about the government-opposition meeting, said: “if anyone denies [about the meeting] then I will reveal names as well”.
“We contacted the opposition last week after talking to Prime Minister Imran Khan … we sat down with respectable people from opposition; they [opposition] said that government should take confidence-building measures,” Awan had said.
It seems that the parliamentary leadership of the government and the opposition parties is on the same page as they have again decided to sit together to discuss electoral reforms — days after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had raised 37 objections on holding the next general elections using electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Speculations ran rife in parliament and in the political circles that the government and opposition might reach a consensus on the government-proposed electoral reforms and proceed ahead with constitutional amendments that would possibly eliminate ECP’s reservations and pave the way for holding elections using EVMs and enable overseas Pakistanis to cast vote.
The government recently faced a major blow to its plan to move ahead with holding the next elections using EVMs and e-voting when the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs after one-sided voting by opposition members rejected key amendments to the Elections Act.
Interestingly, Tuesday’s consensus between the two benches of the National Assembly appears to be in line with the government’s constant stance that it would hold talks with only the parliamentary leadership of the opposition parties and not with the ones outside of parliament, including former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.