The News report by Murtaza Ali Shah
LONDON: Overseas Pakistanis are planning agitation against the reluctance of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to make speedy arrangements to enable more than eight million overseas Pakistanis to vote on May 11 elections.
Despite clear orders by the highest judiciary of the land to make speedy arrangements, the ECP has continued to tell the court about a range of hurdles to giving overseas Pakistanis right to vote in the 2013 general election.
Since the start of the case overseas Pakistanis had hoped that they would soon hear good news but that has not happened and various groups are in discussion to start protests against the ECP and other government agencies.
Many workers of Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have plans to take part in election campaign in Pakistan but they have stayed back in the UK till now just in case British Pakistanis are allowed to cast vote on May 11 polls.
A Pakistani doctorate student at the Oxford University Soufia Siddiqi has started a petition for overseas Pakistanis to be allowed to vote. Within hours of its launch, the petition has received 1,000 signatures.
Soufia Siddiqi told The News that if the ECP wants, it could grant National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) permission to implement e-voting software for Pakistanis abroad, especially when NADRA has reported that software is ready to be distributed to identify polling stations outside of Pakistan where Pakistanis can cast their electronic votes.
She told The News, “It only needs Election Commission’s permission. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has already made its stance very clear. It wants all Pakistanis abroad to be able to cast their votes in 2013 general election. Despite NADRA’s readiness and willingness to pilot this historic effort in modern-day civic and democratic participation, reports from the Election Commission believe arrangements have not been made.
This petition contests that the biggest obstacle that of creating a digital voting system – has already been surmounted. All that is required is political will.
The petition run by Ms Siddiqui states: “Granting this permission can revolutionise citizenship for Pakistan and launch it into a modern era of politics, in which neighbouring countries such as India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have all already used electronic voting mechanisms successfully. If Pakistanis believe electronic voting were their right and can succeed, the Election Commission must not doubt their faith and belief in it.”
She said that Pakistani student societies were anxiously waiting to hear about the outcome of various petitions seeking voting rights for Pakistanis. She commended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had done a remarkable job by standing up for the rights of overseas Pakistanis and he was continuing to do his best but the ECP has done everything to frustrate him.
Separately, PTI London has planned a mass protest outside High Commission of Pakistan on Sunday to demand voting rights for overseas Pakistanis. Asim Ali Shah, PTI’s media secretary told The News that the ECP approach was “sluggish” and through protest in London “we will demand our right to vote”.
“Our chance to vote in forthcoming general elections is in jeopardy. PTI has been the only party, which raised a voice for our rights and filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Apart from PTI, other mainstream political parties have showed very little interest to help us secure our voting rights. We will not give up on our democratic right enshrined in Constitution of Pakistan.”