IT is encouraging that Pakistan is finally undertaking much-needed electoral reforms. An important step in the right direction has been the linking of the electoral rolls to Nadra’s identity cards’ record. But that has also thrown up the ongoing contentiousness over the issue of ‘unverified’ voters. On Friday, the Election Commission of Pakistan disclosed that it had detected some 4.8 million ‘unverified voters’. The estimated figures per constituency are such that legislators have expressed the fear that these could upset the entire election scenario. Some of them have demanded these ‘unverified’ voters be immediately removed from the lists. Thankfully, the next day Nadra clarified that ‘unverified’ voters did not mean false identities or bogus votes, but referred instead to verification of voters’ places of residence. All these people have valid and verified identities, confirmed Nadra chairman Tariq Malik, and CNICs have been cross-referenced with other data such as bank accounts and machine-readable passports.
The problem, evidently, is that these 4.8 million people are ‘unverified’ because their current place of residence — as opposed to the permanent place of residence listed on the CNICs — has not been verified through the door-to-door contacting process. The current place of residence determines the constituency in which a citizen would vote. Nadra says that for all these individuals, verification was attempted three times. According to Mr Malik, not contacting the ECP for changes indicated that the individuals were “satisfied with the status of their entries”.
Certainly, no one should be disenfranchised — and it is worth noting that the unverified millions include 69 lawmakers, six judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, and many bureaucrats and army officers. What we need then is a large-scale campaign involving the administration as well as citizens to set the record straight and to ensure that people’s status is verified. The question is, where are the politicians in all this? The only interest they have shown so far is in demanding the arbitrary disenfranchisement of several millions. Are they not the primary stakeholders in a free and fair election? They should be far more involved in the process of registering people on the electoral rolls, helping verify their places of residence, the constituencies in which they are eligible to vote and other relevant details. Once the elections take place and results start rolling in, it is easy to predict that bickering will occur. How about helping the ECP and Nadra with the unwieldy but crucial task now? That would be a more valuable contribution to the democratic project than constantly complaining.