After Senate success, govt asks opposition to come to the table for electoral reforms

After securing the two top Senate slots of chairman and deputy chairman, the government on Sunday offered the opposition to hold talks on electoral reforms for future elections, on the condition that it accepts the PTI-led government’s mandate to govern for five years.

Information Minister Shibli Faraz and Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry extended the olive branch to the opposition while addressing a press conference in Islamabad. Chaudhry invited the opposition to sit down and have talks pertaining to “big reforms” such as electoral reforms.

“We want to make future elections fair and transparent,” the minister said. He said National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser was ready to form committees on the issue while Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan were already working on the matter.

“Our law ministry, parliamentary division and [NA] Speaker Secretariat are all ready to talk, discuss and take the matter forward but it is important for this that you move forward while accepting the government’s mandate,” Chaudhry told the opposition.

He said clause 21 of the Charter of Democracy signed by the leaders of the PPP and the PML-N maintained that the signatory parties would respect the mandate of any incoming government to govern for the duration of its term.

Chaudhry pointed out that Prime Minister Imran Khan himself had invited the opposition to come and talk on reforms during his last speech in the parliament.

Friday’s elections for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman offices were marred by controversy as seven votes apparently cast in favour of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) joint candidate, Yousuf Raza Gilani, were rejected.

If the seven rejected votes were added to Gilani’s tally, his total would have amounted to 49 — one more than PTI-backed Sadiq Sanjrani’s. While announcing the results, presiding officer Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah said the seven votes were rejected because the stamp was placed on Gilani’s name, which he ruled was against the instructions.

The PPP has said it will file a petition to challenge the result before a high court in the coming week.

Chaudhry during the presser stressed that the PTI was a democratic and federal party which is why it was urging the opposition to have the dialogue, however, “there is just one thing on which there can be no negotiations — and that is the cases against your leadership.”

“All the fingers being raised at the Senate [chairman and deputy chairman] elections at this time are being raised because of the opposition’s role and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) failing to perform its role,” Chaudhry said, adding that the opposition only had itself to blame for the results.

He said the government had persistently tried to bring about the amendment for open balloting in the Senate polls yet the opposition had “changed [its] principle and went towards secret elections”.

“Today we see the political parties which lost this election are making the noise. If elections were open today and in front of everyone, we wouldn’t have had to face such difficulties,” he added.

‘Cancel the long march’

Emphasising that there was an opportunity today to set things right, Chaudhry asked the opposition leaders not to let their politics be controlled by “political novices”.

“Bilawal [Bhutto-Zardari] and Maryam [Nawaz] have no experience of Pakistan’s politics. The senior leadership in these parties should take policymaking in their hands and decide in the interest of Pakistan.”

The minister also called upon the opposition to cancel its planned long march to Islamabad, saying Pakistan had been “fortunate” to protect its economy during the Covid-19 pandemic and the government wanted to take this forward. He further said a long march would contravene the aforementioned clause 21 of the CoD.

He alleged that the PPP which was once called “the chain of the four provinces” had been reduced to a regional party and now its members had “the gall to besmirch the decided principles of Benazir Bhutto”.

Chaudhry also praised the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) move to seek Maryam’s bail cancellation in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case. He said the government wanted NAB to pursue cases to their “logical conclusion” otherwise “people [would] think the stance of accountability is being defeated”.

The information minister, meanwhile, claimed that cracks were already starting to appear in the opposition ranks after the Senate elections. “This election has proved that the PML-N has stabbed PPP in the back and the PPP has stabbed Maulana Fazlur Rehman [in the back],” Faraz added.

He said after the defeat of the opposition candidates for Senate chairman and deputy chairman, different stances and opinions were beginning to emerge with Rehman calling for resignations and the PPP proposing a different strategy.

“The PML-N, [meanwhile,] has adopted such a stance within its own party and alliance [that] it is not finding any support, so its last nail has been hammered”.

Covid-19 vaccination progress

While giving a progress update on Pakistan’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, Faraz singled out Punjab for praise for how it was conducting the drive.

He said the Punjab campaign was proceeding in a very “splendid” and “organised” way, which the other provinces should try to imitate and adopt.

Talking about the current surge in coronavirus cases in Pakistan, Faraz stressed the importance of following Covid-19 standard operating procedures and precautions to tackle the third wave.

Chaudhry, meanwhile, lamented Pakistan’s lack of focus and investment in research, science and technology which he said was the reason for it lagging behind India in vaccine development and research. He said the PTI government had realised this and increased the budget for science and technology by “10 times”.

(This story has been published from Such TV feed, without modifications to the text)