Joint parliament session: Govt 'bulldozes' EVMs, other bills amid pandemonium

At least 7 opposition members remain absent

A host of bills were put to vote one by one in a joint session of Parliament amid pandemonium from the opposition benches and a subsequent walkout. The government proved its majority after the joint house passed the first bill by 221 to 203 votes to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.

Minutes later the joint session also approved a few others bills and then the practice was repeated for other legislation.

Under the laws passed on Wednesday, Pakistanis living in other countries would be allowed to vote in the elections through I-Voting system. One bill would allow the State Bank of Pakistan greater autonomy.

At least 7 members of Parliament (MPs) from opposition parties remained absent during the voting. The absent opposition members included Naved Qamar, Akhtar Mengal, Ali Wazir, and Yousaf Talpur.

The following Key legislation was enacted at the joint session.

  • The session passed an electoral reform bill that would allow the use of EVMs in general elections and enable Pakistanis living abroad to vote using the I-voting system.
  • The joint session passed a bill to comply with the International Court of Justice ruling about Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav.
  • One of the most important bills to pass was the State Bank of Pakistan Banking (SBP) Services Corporation Amendment bill. While the debate in recent days focused on EVMs, the bill on SBP has wider significance because it would grant greater autonomy to the SBP. Shaukat Tarin, the advisor to the PM on finance and revenue, on Tuesday confirmed that the autonomy of the SBP is one of the preconditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • Two Muslim family laws were passed.
  • Anti-rape (investigation and proceedings) bill 2021 was passed.
  • The joint session passed the National College of Arts Institute bill.
  • Charity registration and facilitation bills for the Capital Territory Islamabad was also passed.
  • Hyderabad Institute for Technical & Management Sciences 2021 was approved.
  • The Corporate Restructuring Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was approved.
  • Financial organization (Safe transactions) amendment bill was approved.
  • A bill to establish the University of Islamabad was also approved by the joint session.
  • The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The Al-Karam International Institute Act, 2021
  • The Loans for Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Purposes (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The Companies Act 2017 (amendment)
  • The Privatization Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The COVID-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Bill, 2021
  • Islamabad Food Standard and Quality Authorty Bill
  • The Port Qasim Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The Gwadar Port Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  • The Maritime Security Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2021

Pandemonium and walkout

The opposition benches erupted into an uproar as soon as the results were announced after the first voting. However, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser, who was presiding over the session, rejected the allegations that the vote count was rigged.

The treasury and opposition member almost came to blows and sergeants at arms were called in.

Opposition members later staged a walk out from the session. They also tore up copies of the agenda.

Earlier, Qaiser threw out opposition MP Qadir Mandokhail from the session before the vote.

After the walkout, Shehbaz Sharif said that opposition would challenge the legislation in the Supreme Court. PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that government had failed to show its numbers and the bills had not been rightfully enacted into laws.

The legislation would be challenged at every forum, Bilawal said.

Before the voting began, speaking at the floor Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari blasted the government's attempt to "bulldoze the legislation."

Bilawal said if the controversial law to allow the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming general elections was approved the opposition would not accept the result of next general elections.

Shehbaz Sharif urged the Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser to postpone the session, and warned that the passage of "black laws" would harm Pakistan.

Shehbaz vowed that the opposition would do everything to stop the government from bulldozing the controversial legislation.

PMLN leader blasted the controversial bill on EVMs calling it "evil and vicious machines." He said only eight countries in the world were using EVMs and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rejected them.

Sharif said the PTI government wanted to pass the bills to prolong its rule.

Responding to the opposition leader, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said every election since 1970 has been questioned with rigging allegations and the government wanted to "clean up the blot" left by the past.

Opposition to challenge the legislation

Shortly before the session commenced, the opposition parties met to discuss their strategy in the face of the government's designs to get the legislation through and it was proposed that if the government managed to pass the controversial bills in the joint session, the legislation would be challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif presided over the joint parliamentary party of the opposition. The meeting also focused on ensuring full attendance from the opposition members when the bills are put to vote.

There were reports that some of the opposition MPs may remain absent from the session.

After the meeting, Shehbaz Sharif told journalists that the opposition was satisfied with its numbers. When asked if they would be able to defeat the government, Shehbaz Sharif said, "Whatever God wills is going to happen."

Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the other hand, was seen meeting with MPs. When journalists asked questions about it, the PM returned, "Whom am I meeting?"

Asked if he expected any surprise from the opposition, the PM said a real player is always well prepared before entering the field.

The number game

The government postponed the joint session last week after its allies, PMLQ and MQM, backtracked on their support for the bills. On Tuesday night, the government said it had the required numbers. Reports said that the Jahangir Tarin Group, a faction within the PTI, also assured the PM of its support for the legislation.

PTI MNA Aamir Liqaut Hussain told journalists that he was "brought" to the session.

No neck and neck fight

A day before the joint session some reports claimed that the outcome of the joint session could be unpredictable.

Speaking on SAMAA TV's Show Nadeem Malik Live PTI Senator Faisal Vawda boasted that a number of opposition MPs would support the government. PMLN's Javed Latif claimed that if the powers that be were to remain neutral the government would be defeated by 30 to 35 votes.



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