Punjab govt will amend the law to use EVMs in LG polls

LAHORE: The Punjab government has announced its plans to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming local government elections on a plea that the federal government has already legislated and declared the use of the machines mandatory in all upcoming elections, while the government also managed to allay reservations of its ally, PML-Q, about the Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Act (PLGA) 2021.

“Since the federal government has legislated that all upcoming elections, including by-polls, will be held through the EVMs, how can Punjab deviate from the law?” a senior government official wondered while talking to Dawn on Wednesday.

“The Punjab government now earnestly wants that the clause regarding use of EVMs in all upcoming elections is included in the PLGA 2021, which is currently in the finalization stages,” the official added.

The federal government has already asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold all the next elections, including by-polls, through the EVMs. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had also hinted that the government would not fund the commission if it did not hold the polls through the EVMs.

The commission, in the meanwhile, has asked the Punjab government to submit the draft amended PLGA 2021 in a week otherwise the LG polls would be held as per the law in vogue. “The ECP plans to delimit constituencies afresh according to the amended manuscript of the law, otherwise it will be compelled to hold elections as per the old delimitation of LG constituencies,” an ECP official explained.

The opposition parties, however, vehemently rejected the Punjab government’s plans to bulldoze the all-important legislation. They maintain the PLGA 2021 is being approved in an undemocratic way as no stakeholders have been consulted.

Even the PTI’s ally, the PML-Q, had previously raised objections and its minister, Muhammad Rizwan, had left the Punjab cabinet meeting after expressing his resentment that his party was not consulted.

Since Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar is currently out of the country and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is holding the acting charge of the governor, he called for a briefing on the proposed amendments to PLGA 2021.

Mr Elahi, who is also the PML-Q’s Punjab president, had sought that tehsil councils be made part of the local government system besides fixing qualification requirements for mayor and district council chairman.

The Punjab government sprang up to control the damage. The chief minister held a meeting with the provincial law and local government ministers and the local government secretary and reviewed the law as well as the objections raised by the PML-Q. The CM was directed to continue consultations with the PML-Q and their objections be addressed, adding the new LG act had been drafted with consultations and hard work to empower the grassroots.

Sources claimed a Punjab government official delegation yet again met Mr. Elahi and convinced him that tehsil council could not be included in the law. Over the objection that at least intermediate education should be made mandatory for the mayor and district council chairman, the delegation informed the acting governor the qualification bar could not be included because there was no such requirement for MPAs and MNAs.

“Mr. Elahi agreed with the government’s explanation, but said at least the word “preferably” be included in the law with regards to the qualification,” claimed a government official, who was part of the delegation.

Reacting to the proposed amendments to the law, PML-N Punjab information secretary Azuma Bukhari said the PTI government did not bother consulting the opposition parties while preparing the all-important law. The government was doing legislation through special committees, while no discussion was allowed in the Punjab Assembly, she said, adding, “I was suspended from the assembly session when I tried to argue on the proposed law by the end of the last financial year.”

Regarding the Punjab government’s plan to make the use of EVMs mandatory in the next elections, Ms. Bukhari said, “Who are they to decide how elections should be held? This is the sole mandate of the ECP.”

PPP’s parliamentary leader Hasan Murtaza said the PTI government always did “bad legislation” without consulting the stakeholders. “It is a tragedy that the PTI government is trying to bring in an ordinance when the Punjab Assembly was there to legislate,” he remarked.

Mr. Murtaza said the ruling party should take all parliamentary parties onboard and rectify their reservations. “It is strange that the PTI government is not giving importance to 50 percent legislators in the Punjab Assembly,” he stressed.

Answering a question about the use of EVMs, he said PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had already rejected the government’s plan and moved to threaten and pressurize the ECP. “The PTI government wants to repeat the history of [Results Transmission System] and was looking to get an extension through the use of EVMs,” he claimed.

On the other hand, PML-Q Punjab information secretary Mian Imran Masood says their party accepted the government’s proposal to use EVMs in elections after holding negotiations with the ruling PTI after the joint session of parliament had to be called off briefly owing to reservations of the government’s allied parties.

The PTI government had dissolved the local bodies constituted under the PLGA 2013 by promulgating the PLGA 2019 in May 2019 soon after coming to power. It had appointed LG administrators – some 30 months ahead of completion of the tenure of LG representatives mostly belonging to the PML-N.

However, the Usman Buzdar administration reluctantly restored the local governments in the province in October to comply with a Supreme Court order. The existing local governments’ tenure will expire on Dec 31.