Overseas Pakistanis to get voting rights

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has said that it stands by its plan to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the ECP said it was earnestly considering the matter of the basic right to vote of expatriates holding Pakistani citizenship.

It pointed out that a high-level committee under ECP’s Additional Director General (Elections) Masood Malik had already been constituted. Other members of the committee include two members of the National Assembly, Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry of the PML-N.

The committee has discussed and examined different options to facilitate voting by Pakistanis living abroad through postal ballot, internet and in-person voting. The committee has forwarded 16 recommendations to the ECP.

The issue has been pending with the Supreme Court since 2010. An ordinance to this effect was promulgated two days before the May 2013 general elections, but it served no purpose because the matter required a lot of work, including the mode of voting. The ordinance lapsed after four months. The ECP, however, continued to work on the idea.

An ECP official told reporters that the plan to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote has been a top priority of the five-year strategic plan hammered out by the commission.

He claimed that the total number of Pakistanis living abroad was about 6.7 million but only 3.7 million had the National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) which would make them eligible to vote.

He said there were 1.7 million Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and 1.2 million each in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.

Other countries with a large concentration of Pakistanis include the United States (0.9 million), Canada (0.3 million), Oman (0.2 million), Kuwait (150,000), Greece (90,000), Germany (78,000), France and Scotland (60,000 each), Denmark (30,000) and Australia (27,000).

During the deliberations prior to the 2013 general polls, the option of setting up polling stations in embassies and consulates in over a dozen countries where large numbers of Pakistanis were living or working also came under discussion.

It was observed that some countries might not allow a huge gathering of people for the election.

Another proposal discussed was to allocate some seats in the national and provincial assemblies with overseas Pakistanis forming the electoral-college.

The proposed criterion for candidates was a minimum stay of three years abroad and remittances of at least $50,000. Those possessing dual nationality would have to surrender their foreign nationality to qualify as a voter.

Technical experts still believe that a decision made in haste on a mechanism that would enable the overseas Pakistanis to vote would open room for manipulation of results in many constituencies.

They said that a minor error could sabotage the whole electoral exercise, since none of the proposed mechanisms had been tested so far.

The option of ‘internet voting’ would bring electoral rolls over web, exposing them to the risk of hacking.

Sources claim that the idea of postal ballots appears to be a top priority in recent discussions, but modalities for this would have to be worked out for making the process transparent and avoiding any misuse and manipulation.

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