The Middle Ground
The situation around the election reforms proposed by the coalition government has not been resolved yet and will continue to remain controversial in the upcoming weeks. The President’s refusal to sign off on the bill all but ensures this. Key among the reforms of course, was the roll back of electronic voting machines and the question of i-voting for overseas Pakistanis. However, constitutionally, the refusal to pen the bill into law does little to change the inevitable.
The President’s decision to return the bill after expressing his reservations is little more than a statement of opposition at this point. The bill was first passed by the National Assembly and the Senate, after which it was sent to President Alvi for the first time. After the first refusal, the bill was then passed once more by a joint sitting of the parliament on June 9. Once that happens, the President can refuse to sign, but after ten days his assent is seen to be given regardless of the decision. This clause is in place in the constitution to allow for supremacy of parliament over the role of the President.
But even once they are passed into law, the reforms will continue to remain controversial, as PTI, a key stakeholder in the next elections, has strongly advocated for both EVMs and overseas voting. Over the next few weeks, we can anticipate a tussle over this, and the PTI leadership will make this a key component of their street campaign alongside inflation and the foreign conspiracy narrative.
The problem with the reforms, both when PTI brought them in, and now, when they are being pushed through by the coalition government, is that they only account for what one side wants. When EVMs were proposed by PTI, questions were raised on research into development, security, privacy, cost, logistics and a whole host of other concerns that were left unanswered by the previous government. Similarly, on this occasion, we have EVMs being scrapped, but there is no attempt to try and test them out or look to bring in more reliable mechanics for improved transparency in the electoral process.
It would be best for the government to avoid the path of confrontation and offer some sort of consolation to PTI as a means to avoid this constant back and forth between rules. Either look to provide a timeline for research into EVMs for the sake of making that sure all stakeholders are taken into account, or consider launching a pilot project with audited reports into costs and benefits. We cannot go back and forth between various processes, chosen by whoever is in power. It is time to draw up one process that is not made controversial and is demonstrably used to ensure that Pakistanis can employ their right to universal franchise most effectively.