IT seemed too good to be true. On Sunday, the PTI government extended an unexpected offer to the opposition, saying it was willing to initiate talks with the opposition on the issue of electoral reforms. Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry said at a press conference that reforms were pending in a committee of parliament in which the government had proposed holding of polls through electronic machines, right of vote for overseas Pakistanis and the curtailment of powers of the presiding officers. Though casual in its tenor, the offer appeared to be a step forward — until the next day, when the government’s demand that ECP members resign cast doubt on the genuineness of its intentions.
It is true that electoral reforms require urgent attention from all political parties. The Senate elections are a reminder that the present system is struggling to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections. This means the fundamentals of running a democracy are under stress. If the country goes into the next round of elections — local bodies and general elections — there is cause for worry that they will generate further controversies and instability. It is therefore critical that electoral reforms are discussed in detail by all political parties and legislated with consensus. If major parties are not on board then the entire exercise could become futile.
This is why it was unfortunate when PTI decided to go it alone on the issue of having Senate elections through an open ballot. However, if there is indeed a serious plan to discuss electoral reforms with the opposition, then it would do well to handle the matter at the appropriate level. A sincere attempt would include approaching the senior parliamentary leadership of the opposition and offering a formal meeting to discuss the agenda for the reforms. Parliament is the appropriate forum and the government should reach out to the opposition in all sincerity.
But the problem is that the government is struggling to overcome its acute partisanship when it comes to a discussion on such critical issues. It is in this respect that the demand of the government that ECP members resign is a highly inappropriate one. It boggles the mind when senior government functionaries are sent out to deliver such irresponsible statements. The chief election commissioner was appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself, and under him the ECP has done well to stand up to pressure from the government. It is ironical that the party which allegedly indulged in severe electoral malpractices in the Daska by-election is now calling for the resignation of those who called out this gross manipulation and rightly ordered a re-poll. The government would do itself a favour if it were to take a holistic view of the situation before rushing to make statements that are difficult to take seriously.