SC seeks ECP report over right of vote to expatriates


The Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday to review modalities on whether overseas Pakistanis could exercise their right of vote in general elections, analyse the matter in light of the experience of other countries and submit a report to it by February 6.
A four-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was hearing a petition, filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, seeking to ensure the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis in the election. Appearing on notice, ECP Joint Secretary (Elections) Syed Sher Afgan told the court that problems were being faced while giving the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis as it was a very costly exercise. He said registering a voter within the country cost about $2, while registration of one overseas Pakistani would cost about $30. He said the facility of postal ballots was confined to the country and even in the most democratic developed countries, the right to cast vote was limited. The chief justice told the ECP and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) officials that under Article 219, the ECP was bound to prepare electoral lists yearly while under Article 218(3), elections had be to held freely, fairly and justly in accordance with the law. He also told them that in providing such facilities to expatriates, they had to consider the prospect of malpractice.
Chaudhry said the idea of providing an opportunity to overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right of vote was good, however the ECP would have to ensure that the election process was not affected because of it. He said wrong practices must be avoided and the matter should be handled in the most transparent manner. The commission’s joint secretary stated that currently, the right of postal ballots was only given to public servants who, during election time, performed their duties outside their constituencies. He said the issue of the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis was alive for the last 30 years and it was even taken up in the cabinet meeting during Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif’s government, but it was dropped later on. He said the ECP would have to bear extra expenditures if such an exercise was conducted abroad.
The court expressed satisfaction with the reply submitted by the Foreign Office over the matter. Hamid Khan, counsel for Imran Khan, and Afnan Karim Kundi, counsel for NADRA, also appeared in court. The court asked NADRA’s counsel to complete the exercise of electoral lists.
“You have to complete the exercise without being influenced [by anyone],” the chief justice told the counsel, adding that the orders of the courts could not be flouted. Kundi told the court that NADRA had issued Computerised National Identity Cards to 3.688 million Pakistani expatriates, excluding residents of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
To a court query, Hamid Khan stated that there were 8 million overseas Pakistanis and they deserved the right to vote. When asked whether casting votes was a fundamental right, Hamid Khan said Article 17 ensured it, thus it was a fundamental right. He said the participation of overseas Pakistanis in the election process could have viable impacts upon the elections results.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that the court was fulfilling its responsibility to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country. “Exercising the right of vote in a right manner could change the destiny of the country,” he remarked.
The court also directed the respondents and petitioners to exchange their documents. It also allowed the counsel for the Inter-Provincial Coordination Ministry to file a reply. The ministry had told the court that it had no concerns on the issue.