Home Global Village Voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad to be guaranteed: CJP

Voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad to be guaranteed: CJP

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On Monday, the Interior Minister appeared before the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a case related to issuance or cancellation of national identity cards.

Last year, a Suo Moto notice pertaining to the case was initiated after a non-resident Pakistani complained that the issuance fee for a Pakistan Origin Card (POC) had been increased. In August 2017, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Mian Saqib Nisar heard the case. The fee for issuing the card had been increased to PKR 22000 and the fee for cancellation had been increased to PKR 31,500.

The Pakistan Origin Card or POC is for people living in foreign countries that have given up their Pakistani nationality or for foreigners who have relatives that are or were Pakistani nationals. It aim to provide incentives to foreigners to get back to their roots, such as visa-free entry into Pakistan, exemption from foreigner registration requirements, permission to purchase and sell property and right to open and operate bank accounts.

At this, the CJP summoned details of the case from the Lahore High Court and assured the minister that the problem will be resolved soon. “You consider courts your enemies. But, courts are not your enemies, but friends,” the Chief Justice said.

Another important identification for Pakistanis living abroad is the National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP). NICOP is for Pakistanis living in foreign countries for employment purposes who have kept their national identity. A citizen who lives or has reference abroad is eligible for it. Someone possessing the NICOP can travel to Pakistan without requiring a visa.

Having a computerized national identity card (CNIC) is a must if one wants to vote in elections in Pakistan. Both NICOP and POC are meant to provide official identification to overseas Pakistanis for the purpose of enabling them to vote. Overseas Pakistanis have not, until recently, been guaranteed the right to vote in any elections in their home country. In 2012, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) announced the ‘smart card’ scheme for Pakistanis living abroad.

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The Smart National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis were introduced in London at first. Public facilitation centers were then going to be expanded across Britain and the rest of Europe. The data for the cards would be collected in the relevant country and sent to Pakistan where the cards would be printed and then shipped back to where its prospective holder resides. However, in 2015, the Election Commission of Pakistan and Nadra informed a parliamentary committee that overseas Pakistanis won’t be able to vote in 2018.

In August 2017, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Mian Saqib Nisar heard the case. The fee for issuing the card had been increased to PKR 22000 and the fee for cancellation had been increased to PKR 31,500.

The reasons given were that the biometric verification of voters and the security of related data could not be guaranteed. In addition to that, a number of technical and legal reasons contributed to the failure of a mock exercise organized by ECP officials. The exercise was a simulation of voting by overseas Pakistanis in four countries. According to officials from the Election Commission, the mock exercise was carried in seven embassies, high commissions and consulates.

Only employee of the foreign missions had been asked to vote for fictitious candidates through postal ballots and via telephone. Not even one vote could be recorded via telephone call. At the same time, the postal ballots-of which there were only 67 in total-took one to two weeks to reach the ECP office in Islamabad through diplomatic channels. Other issues included sending constituency wise ballot papers on the basis of addresses mentioned on NICOP and sending ballots via email to Pakistanis working as laborers in foreign countries who might not have a specific individual email address.

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In the hearing of the case initiated under a Suo Moto notice, the Chief Justice of Pakistan had remarked, “the services of non-resident Pakistanis are commendable,” adding that Pakistanis living in foreign countries should be given special considerations e.g. monetary concessions. The Suo Moto notice was taken after “unnecessary exorbitant fee” was charged by NADRA from overseas Pakistanis. An official from NADRA defended the high prices, arguing that the cards being issued under NICOP or POC have distinctive features. The chip in them preserves a citizen’s data more efficiently, NADRA claimed.

The Smart National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis were introduced in London at first. Public facilitation centers were then going to be expanded across Britain and the rest of Europe.

The Pakistani Diaspora is the 7th largest in the world. More than 7 million Pakistanis are estimated to be living abroad. More than a million live in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom each. When the CJP said that the services of non-resident Pakistanis are commendable, he was referring to the fact in FY2017, overseas Pakistanis sent nearly $20 billion in remittances back home. In January of this year, NADRA gave a presentation to the apex court and unveiled an online voting system for Pakistanis abroad.

The Internet Voting System for Overseas Pakistanis will be developed at a cost of PKR 150 million within a period of four months. The funds will be provided by the ECP. The three-tier internet voting system includes voter registration and verification, vote casting procedures and results compilation and audit.

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When Ahsan Iqbal appeared before the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice said that the minister had to ensure the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis. Iqbal also mentioned that he had gained approval for two schools in his constituency in Narowal but due to a stay order from the high court, the project was delayed. At this, the CJP summoned details of the case from the Lahore High Court and assured the minister that the problem will be resolved soon. “You consider courts your enemies. But, courts are not your enemies, but friends,” the Chief Justice said.

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