A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs was held under the Chairmanship of Senator Taj Haider at Parliament House on Friday.
The committee received a comprehensive briefing from the Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Secretary, Election Commission of Pakistan on Bills further to amend the Election Act, 2017 "The Election (Amendment) Bill 2021, and The Elections( Second Amendment ) Bill 2021, as passed by the National Assembly.
The chairman committee lauded the Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, and the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, for showing a positive attitude and cooperating with the committee.
Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar, while highlighting the importance of the bill, stressed that any decision taken in this regard should be consensus-based. The Chairman Committee maintained that we are working beyond party lines only in the country's National Interest. The Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary affairs assured the committee members of their support with an open heart, maintaining the honour and dignity of the oversight of the Senate Panel.
At the outset of the meeting, the Chairman Committee strongly recommended calling for a briefing from the NADRA and Ministry of Science and Technology over Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), which would aid the Parliament in making concrete recommendations and decisions.
Deliberation on the Amendment in section 94, Act XXXIII of 2017, enabling overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote during the general election in their country of residence, was considered. The SAPM on Parliamentary Affairs placed reliance on two Judgments of the Supreme Court in favour of the Amendment in section 94, Act 2017. The committee members sought time to study the judgments for further deliberation. Senator Musadik Masood recommended studying the audit reports prepared by the Ministry. The committee also decided that further considerations will occur in light of the audit reports on i-Voting system. The Ministry produced two audit reports on i-Voting however failed to produce an over 200-page report prepared by a Spanish company for the concerned Ministry. The Chair directed the relevant authorities to provide the audit report, prepared by the Spanish company for further deliberations on the Amendment in the bills in the next meeting.
The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs also advised the committee to call a briefing from the Ministry of Science and Technology on i-Voting and Electronic Voting Machines would make it easier for committee members to clarify themselves on various queries. The Chairman Committee and the Committee Members unanimously emphasized to ensure that the introduction of the new system protects and safeguards the rights of the Pakistani Citizen and fulfill the Constitutional requirements of vote secrecy.
The Secretary Election commission of Pakistan also briefed the committee on the Amendment in section 103, Act XXXIII of 2017, and electronic voting machines (EVMs) to cast votes in the general election.
The Chairman committee sought a briefing from NADRA on i-voting in the next meeting. The committee also sought a briefing regarding the audit report of Spanish consultants on i-voting from the IT ministry.
During the meeting, the officials from the Electronic Commissions of Pakistan expressed their concern and said that the proposed amendments will dilute constitutional powers of the commission and shift them to NADRA, which is part of the Federal Government and is not an independent body like the ECP. The officials asserted that this Amendment will result in shifting of registration of power to NADRA. This is an exclusive power of ECP under Article 219 of the Constitution, they added.
In its briefing, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) noted that the Amendment required delimitation of constituencies based on the number of voters instead of population. The officials of the Ministry apprised the committee members that this is against Article 51 (5) of the Constitution; it may also enhance seats in the urban areas due to the temporary address of voters of such places where they reside temporarily. It also raises another problem with grave repercussions for the federation when it says through such an amendment, the population of fewer than 18 years may not be represented as 18 years of age is essential for voter registration. In contrast, one of the main components of resource distribution is population.
Senator Farooq Hamid Naek observed that the registration of woman voters is significantly less. Senator Sania Nishtar seconded the point raised by Senator Farooq Hamid Naek and said that the implementation of law regarding over 10 per cent of the gender gap among voters should be resolved.
Senator Sania Nistar emphasised that the campaign by Nadra on women voter registration should be dealt with extra zeal to empower the role of women in the elections. The chairman committee proposed the Nadra to register transgender voters and reduce the gender registration gap and
The meeting was attended by Azam Khan Swati, Syed Ali Zafar, Sania Nister, Farooq Hamid Naek, Prof Sajjid Mir, Azam Nazeer Tarar, Abida Muhammad Azeem, Afnan Ullah Khan and Senator Musadik Masood Malik. Senior Officials of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Election commission of Pakistan also participated in the meeting.