Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Tuesday that there was a likelihood of the government not being able to fund elections that would not include the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Speaking after a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad, he told media persons that the cabinet had discussed the matter at length and agreed that the Election Commission of Pakistan was bound to use EVMs in by-elections.
"And one of the points of view [shared in the meeting] was that the government could not fund any election held without [the use of] EVMs as after the recent amendment, the law [only] recognised polls involving the use of EVMs," he said, adding that Law Minister Farogh Naseem had the same point of view.
The minister was referring to contentious amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, which were bulldozed through a joint session of parliament amid fervent protest by the opposition earlier this month. The amendments allowed the use of EVMs and granted voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, on which the opposition has repeatedly expressed reservations.
Chaudhry told reporters on Tuesday that after deliberating on the matter in light of the recent amendment, the cabinet had formed a committee in this regard and the law ministry would also give its opinion.
"And it seems that we will only be able to release funds to the Election Commission [of Pakistan] for polls where EVMs will be used," he reiterated, adding that the government now wanted the ECP to start working towards the induction of EVMs in elections.
Moreover, he said, Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz had shared during today's cabinet meeting a comprehensive plan on the use of EVMs, which included details such as how many machines would be required.
"And we want the ECP to now move forward according to this schedule," he added.
During the press briefing, the minister also spoke about recently surfaced video clips wherein individuals were seen distributing cash, allegedly for getting on-oath pledges from voters to cast votes in their favour ahead of the NA-133 by-poll in Lahore.
"The cabinet has expressed concern on the videos," he said, adding that had quick action been taken after a similar incident during Senate elections in March this year, "we would not have been facing this situation [again]."
Highlighting the importance of transparent election in a democratic country, he said while it was important that the ECP was strengthened, it being "effective" was also of significance. And hence, the ECP needed to take such incidents of rigging to their logical conclusion. he stressed.
'Gas reserves depleting'
Speaking about gas, of which the country is seeing a shortage with the arrival of winter, the minister warned that gas reserves in the country were depleting.
"And we have not discovered any new resources," he said, highlighting the need for a strategy to address the issue of disappearing indigenous reserves of gas and the emerging shortfall of the commodity.
He said only 28pc Pakistanis were actually being supplied gas, and "the rest of the country, deprived of the commodity's supply, facilitates" this small percentage.
Hence, "we need a policy to fulfil the gas need of all Pakistanis."
The minister also outlined the measures taken by the government in this regard.
Chaudhry also commented on Former chief justice of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim distancing himself from an affidavit attributed to him in which allegations of collusion were levelled against another former jurist Mian Saqib Nisar.
The matter had surfaced when a report published on November 15 in The News by journalist Ansar Abbasi quoted Shamim as saying in an alleged affidavit that he witnessed Nisar relaying instructions to a high court judge to not release former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, in corruption references against them.
Subsequently, the Islamabad High Court had issued show-cause notices to Shamim and others in the case.
During the hearing on the matter today, Shamim told the court he had not yet examined the affidavit attributed to him. When asked whether he had given it to a newspaper, the former judge had responded, "My affidavit is sealed in a locker in the UK. I don't know how it was leaked."
Terming the development "surprising", Fawad said if the affidavit was in a locker, how did it reach the newspaper that initially reported it.
"It seems that the affidavit reached the newspaper through Nawaz Sharif," he commented." A campaign has been launched against the judiciary and armed forces and we hope that the court would take the matter to its logical conclusion."
The Omicron concern
Earlier in his speech, Chaudhry expressed concern over the discovery of the coronavirus' Omicron variant, saying that reports suggested it spread 10 times faster than other variants.
Therefore, the cabinet had asked provincial governments and citizens to ensure the completion of inoculation againt the coronavirus.
"The virus is surely going to reach the country and we must be wearing masks as well," he emphasised.
Sharing other developments from the cabinet meeting, he said formalities had been completed for the SBP receiving $3 billion from Saudi Arabia $1.2bn worth of oil supplies from the Kingdom, approval had been given for limiting the construction of buildings around airports and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam had been tasked with formulating a long-term policy on smog in Lahore.
He added that the Federal Investigation Agency had been asked to launch a programme against human trafficking, Pakistan would be sending 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan and Islamabad would also host an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's Council of Foreign Ministers to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.