A joint session of parliament has passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which President Alvi has returned after refusing to sign them. The bills will again be presented to President Alvi but will become law if he does not give his approval within 10 days. A joint session was called for this very reason – get the bills passed despite an uncooperative president.
It was already quite clear that the new government would amend both the electoral reforms passed by the PTI government and the NAB laws. The entire coalition had been saying this even before they came to power. When the Senate approved these bills a few weeks ago, three PPP senators had refrained from voting as they had reservations about the proposed amendments and were of the view that the election reforms should have been broader while the NAB amendments should have addressed the grievances of the public at large as well. During the PTI government’s tenure, we had seen how consistently the government had used bulldozing tactics to get legislation through, mainly resorting to ordinances. One hopes the current government chooses deliberate, thoughtful law-making over rushed-up legislation and also pays heed to members within its own ranks on the accountability amendments.
The Election Commission had made its 37 reservations public about the amendments passed by the PTI government, and it was also not ready for the i-voting mechanism for overseas Pakistanis. There was misinformation that the right to vote had been taken away from overseas voters but as has been confirmed also by the Islamabad High Court the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis remain intact. On the NAB law, there is of course controversy that these amendments have been passed to give a clean chit to the ongoing cases against the coalition partners but we have seen the judiciary itself questioning the arbitrary powers of NAB in the past and how the anti-graft body had been used as a tool for political victimization. That said, the way laws have been passed in the past few years need a rethink. If parliament is only to be used as a soap box for pretty – or fiery – speeches, then where will the business of law-making, which requires debate, take place?