“Here are the partial results of Halqa NA 420 United States cum Canada cum Cuba where Mansoor Ijaz of PML-N is leading Hussain Haqani of PPP by a thin margin. Shaukat Aziz of PML-Q is not far behind and as the results from the polling stations of Guantanamo Bay pour in, party tallies may change dramatically … and now a short break.”
That’s your favorite local news channel covering general elections 2013. You think it’s a sick joke. I tell you this is what is going to happen if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) stands by its decision to give voting right to overseas Pakistanis. ECP had decided to grant expatriate Pakistanis right to vote in February 2012 without actually attempting to answer a plethora of questions. May be they had found the ‘announcement’ of the decision more important than the decision itself.
In Pakistan’s constitutional scheme, electoral constituencies have to be territorial and a voter has to be a resident of a geographically defined constituency. The ministry of overseas Pakistanis estimates that there are 5.5 million Pakistanis living in 105 countries and by the going standard they deserve 18 seats in National Assembly. So the six continents (I am excluding Antarctica presuming no Pakistani lives there!) will have to be divided into 18 constituencies. Australia and Saudi Arabia may fall in the same constituency and a candidate from there will have to rent a jet to do canvassing across the Indian Ocean. But wait, will our Middle Eastern brothers allow us to pollute their pristine political environs with these rather obscene, if not sacrilegious, electoral activities. These days even innocent ‘tweets’ can give them sleepless nights.
And for drawing up constituencies, the ECP will have to undertake a world-wide exercise of developing global electoral rolls. Error-free voter lists for the country itself could however remain a dream. ECP will have to set up polling stations in God knows how many cities. How will these be administered? And in case of a party indulging in any malpractice, the presiding officer will call which police, local or Pakistani? Pakistani police might be happy to reach out to such calls to duty. If you are imaginative enough, you can go on and very easily develop 101 funny ways through which Pakistani democracy is going to spread over the entire globe - after the frustrating failures of our horse-riding Kalashnikov-wielding shadowy heroes from the past hoisting a flag in every corner of the world.
Besides administrative practicalities, a whole host of legal issues regarding citizenship, political rights, jurisdictions and other matters will have to be addressed. Overseas Pakistanis can be divided into two groups. The bigger one comprises of labourers, skilled workers and professionals who flew over to Middle East with well-documented and time-barred contracts in hands and with hardly any possibility of them settling down in those countries for good. All countries offer voting facility to their citizens who, while performing official duties at a certain place, cannot physically present themselves at the polling station where they are registered. Probably, this can be theoretically stretched to cover Pakistani workers in Middle East. But what about the other group - those who have settled down in and taken up citizenship of developed countries. I think that constitutionality and legality of this issue will stem from how do we see them?
So, how do we see our foreign Western relatives? It’s a mean mix of cautious envy and shear greed with a corner of the eye permanently focused on their glittering dollars. They are a source of always-much-needed easy money (economists call it foreign remittance, impressive!) that mostly ends up in consumer goods markets, lavish marriage ceremonies and worse of all in gaudy buildings in remote villages that remain unoccupied for ever. Some do it by choice and others are lured or flattered into this blind allay or simply subjected to extortion.
One clever way of wooing them in is to seek their expert advice on how to defeat a social evil, solve an economic riddle or handle a precarious political situation. If you had hit the right chord spare time, lots of, to listen to their words of wisdom along with the stories of how actually did they conquer the Wild West and yes remember not to yawn in between.
That’s bad manners. Can they be charmed by a voting right? I realise the gravity of the situation and the urgency of the need. Nikki’s marriage has been decided and is just a few months away. A whole list of dowry items is yet to be shopped and gold prices are already sky high. But I have my doubts that a vote will do the trick; why not depend on the old-hand strategy of emotional blackmail?
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.
He tweets @TahirMehdiZ
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.