In absence of consensus, Pakistan PM Imran Khan struggles to push electoral reforms

Elections in Pakistan have lately become controversial, amid frequent allegations by political parties of rigging and compromised process, putting the credibility of the elected government in question

Nov 11, 2021
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Pakistan PM Imran Khan

Elections in Pakistan have lately become controversial, amid frequent allegations by political parties of rigging and compromised process, putting the credibility of the elected government in question. The present government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan who often faces similar allegations, thus decided to make electoral reforms one of his key priorities. However, his government appears struggling to materialize these big changes. 

On Tuesday, when the government called a joint session of parliament to pass the electoral reform bill, the session had to be put off within 24 hours as the government’s own allies failed to turn up, exposing the ruling party’s lack of support for its key reforms. 

Opposition parties have long opposed the manner Khan’s government wants to proceed with these changes--without forming consensus among political parties and ignoring the concerns raised by key institutions, including the Election Commission.

The introduction of the Electronic Voting Machine and the provision of voting for overseas Pakistanis--over 9 million in number -are among the key ambitions of the government. Khan, who enjoys considerable support among the country’s overseas population--the section often left out of the election process - wants to pass these reforms before the country goes into elections again in 2023. 

Questions have been raised repeatedly about the safety of these machines, given the threat of potential cyber attacks and manipulations, leaving the entire election process even more compromised. However, the government decided to go ahead, unilaterally, in introducing these reforms.

On Tuesday, the government met with a series of rude shocks when two motions by the ruling parties’ MPs were defeated in Parliament, forcing the government to call off the session without introducing the crucial bill. Smaller parties in the ruling coalition also abstained from the session. 

“Electoral reform is an issue linked to the country’s future. We are working in good faith to reach a consensus (with the opposition) on this issue,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Twitter, announcing the government’s decision to put off the joint session. 

He further added, “We hope that the opposition will seriously consider these crucial reforms so that we can come up with a strategy for the country’s future.” However, later, in what appears a veiled warning, he added that the government was committed to the issue of poll reforms and would proceed even if they fail to form a consensus on it. 

While the opposition termed it a victory for its joint initiative, the government said they had asked their allies to talk to opposition parties to form a consensus on the issue. A report in Dawn says the government had not even consulted allies before calling the joint session. 

Bilawal Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the opposition leader in the Parliament, claimed that they had successfully convinced the government’s allies about the danger posed by the unilateral electoral reforms. 

Khan, who opposition leaders often call “selected”--a unveiled reference to the alleged patronage he received from the country’s powerful military establishment during the 2018 general elections - doesn’t have a good record of reaching out to opposition members on key bills. 

In fact, throughout his tenure as the prime minister, he remained extremely hostile to opposition leaders, targeting and implicating in cases the opposition calls “fabricated” with "malafide intentions". In these circumstances, it seems highly unlikely that the Khan government would be able to pass these electoral reforms. 

(SAM)

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