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Supreme Court expected to grant voting rights to Overseas Pakistanis

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The case that aims to get voting rights for overseas Pakistanis has managed to finally reach the Supreme Court after a long struggle of five years. This case has been filed by solicitor Dawood Ghaznavi along with 16 other petitions that have been filed regarding the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis. On January 10th, the hearing took place at the Supreme Court in which the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar asked the Attorney General to present the court with all the work and relevant material that has been done regarding the crucial issue of voting rights for overseas Pakistanis.

The Supreme Court then summoned the secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan for the next hearing which was scheduled for January 16th 2018. The issue of granting overseas Pakistanis voting rights has been a notable point of contention that has been raised by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf repeatedly over the past decade. However, a request was made to the Supreme Court by Imran Khan to be added as a party to this particular case that demands voting rights for overseas Pakistanis that was subsequently denied by the Supreme Court.

The petitioners are optimistic about the verdict considering that the Supreme Court has decided to hold all the relevant ministries including NADRA accountable for their mismanagement and deliberate tactics to delay and obstruct this constitutional process.

The reason that has been presented by the SC is that PTI is a political party and a member of the National Assembly that passed the bill. Keeping in line with the fact that PTI voted for the Elections Act, the Supreme Court has asked PTI to file a new petition explaining their reasons for voting for the act, explain why they strongly advocate voting rights for overseas Pakistanis and presenting the court with all the relevant documentation of the National Assembly debate where this issue was discussed.

Read more: Overseas Pakistanis: An underrated asset for Pakistan

The prosecution has officially contended that extending voting rights to overseas Pakistanis is a constitutional obligation of the state. It is important to note that the fiscal contribution that is made by expatriate Pakistanis to the state’s economy amounts to approximately 18 billion dollars. In 2013 Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stated that the Election Commission of Pakistan should develop the technical infrastructure to enable overseas Pakistanis to vote while emphasizing that elections could not be termed as free and fair without including the votes of expats.

However, it is necessary to observe the fact that the Election Commission of Pakistan did not set up any infrastructure that would enable overseas Pakistanis from voting and as a consequence of their inadequate response, overseas Pakistanis were not able to participate in the 2013 elections.

This case deserves civil support and we need to realize that constitutional rights of the citizens of Pakistan whether they live at home or abroad cannot be compromised or denied under any circumstances.

In November 2017, the Election Commission once again stated that Pakistanis will not be able to vote in the upcoming 2018 elections raising multiple questions about whether or not the ECP is as independent as they demonstrate and what political agenda could an election commission that is supposed to be unbiased possibly have in making no attempt to create an infrastructure for the voting process that could be used by overseas Pakistanis. The Election Commission of Pakistan has presented no report or evidence to back their claim that overseas voting is not currently possible.

Read more: Over 7,000 Pakistanis jailed abroad are without government support

The Elections Act Bill was passed in 2017 and in article 94 the process to enable the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis is clearly mentioned in the following way;

  1. Voting by Overseas Pakistanis:

(1) The Commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the Government, which shall, within fifteen days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).

Despite the fact that the Elections Act of 2017 legally bound them to conduct trials on various by-elections to test the efficacy of overseas voting, the ECP did not create or facilitate any such infrastructure for which they were severely reprimanded by the Supreme Court.

(2) In this section, Overseas Pakistani‘ means a citizen of Pakistan under the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 (II of 1951) or holder of National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis under the National Database and Registration Authority ordinance, 2000 (VIII of2000) who is working or residing abroad permanently or temporarily for not less than six months.

Read more: Self-aware Pakistanis vs the influential and power-wielding elite

On January 16th, the Supreme Court interrogated the case further by holding the ECP accountable for their continuous failure to create a simple infrastructure for overseas Pakistanis to vote. Despite the fact that the Elections Act of 2017 legally bound them to conduct trials on various by-elections to test the efficacy of overseas voting, the ECP did not create or facilitate any such infrastructure for which they were severely reprimanded by the Supreme Court.

It is important to note that the fiscal contribution that is made by expatriate Pakistanis to the state’s economy amounts to approximately 18 billion dollars

The ECP put all the blame on NADRA for not providing the relevant information about the identification of overseas Pakistanis. As a response the chairman of NADRA was summoned to court on the 23rd of January along with the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Election Commission of Pakistan, Overseas Foundation for Pakistanis in order to detect and resolve the specific problem that is obstructing the creation and facilitation of an infrastructure that can finally enable overseas Pakistanis to vote.

Read more: Question of overseas voting back in the supreme court of Pakistan

The petitioners are optimistic about the verdict considering that the Supreme Court has decided to hold all the relevant ministries including NADRA accountable for their mismanagement and deliberate tactics to delay and obstruct this constitutional process. This case deserves civil support and we need to realize that constitutional rights of the citizens of Pakistan whether they live at home or abroad cannot be compromised or denied under any circumstances. The upcoming by-election that is scheduled to take place on February 9th in Lodhran will determine how effective the current Supreme Court proceedings have been.

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