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ISLAMABAD: Senior officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) believe that a decision in haste on the evolution of a mechanism that would enable overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the coming general elections would open a room for manipulation of results in many constituencies.

Talking to Dawn, the officials said they were ready to implement orders of the Supreme Court, but admitted that they were facing serious problems in finding ways to make the process transparent.

A bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had directed the secretaries of law and justice, information technology, foreign affairs, ministry of oversees Pakistanis and the ECP as well as the chairman of Nadra to make coordinated efforts for devising a mechanism which would enable oversees Pakistanis to cast their votes in the elections.

The officials concerned held a meeting at the Nadra headquarters on Friday to work out measures in line with the court’s directive. Various options were weighed, but none of them found to be practicable.

Technical experts in the ECP and the Nadra pointed out that a minor error could sabotage the whole electoral exercise since none of the proposed mechanisms had been tested so far.

“Options like putting database on website compromise privacy and are prone to hacking and misuse. There are legal and diplomatic hitches as well. We will have very limited time available to complete the exercise if the court gives a final directive,” an official said. He said two-thirds of the expatriates were in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

According to data, out of the 4.5 million overseas Pakistan enrolled in voters’ lists, 1.7m live in Saudi Arabia, 1.3m in the UAE, 277,131 in Oman, 131,589 in Kuwait and 80,166 in Bahrain.

He said since most of these countries did not allow political activities, the assembly of Pakistanis in large number at diplomatic missions of Pakistan was out of question and might invite troubles.

There are 367,988 registered Pakistani voters in the UK, 131,589 in the USA, 90,148 in Canada, 56,495 in Greece, 55,851 in Malaysia, 39,618 in Spain, 23,585 in France and 15,728 in Australia.

Given the concentration of overseas Pakistanis from some specific areas of Pakistan, their votes can have a significant impact on some of their native constituencies if the right is exercised in a transparent manner. However, a misuse could seriously be damaging, an official warned.

The Nadra’s IT experts in their report submitted before the Supreme Court say the option of ‘internet voting’ will bring electoral rolls over web, exposing them to dangers of hacking which cannot be mitigated within the short time given for polling. Besides, internet voting cannot have a secure ‘identity confirmation’ and it will also compromise the privacy of voters.

The report says such confirmation can only be ensured through biometric verification. In the absence of identity confirmation, the possibility of casting vote against someone else’s identity cannot be ruled out.

The other proposed option discussed was voice signature. There is no database available in the country where voice signatures are tagged with national identity cards issued to overseas Pakistanis.

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

Comments (14) Closed

Jabbar Khwaja Mar 30, 2013 02:54am
It will work this way. 1. Allow NICOP holders to vote over the internet 2. The holders of NCOP can establish an account on Nadra/ECP providing all their facts 3. Vote by logging on to their accounts and then linking to ballot casting. The fraud will be negligible and may not be more than someone casting on behalf of their spouses or children. This will still be a family vote and in most cases all family members vote to the same party/candidate.. Jabbar Khwaja
KhanChangezKhan Mar 30, 2013 05:59am
It It has been seen in Saudi Arabia that the Overseas Egyptians have continued been casting their votes through their Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, EC and other concerned may contact the electoral authorities of Egypt as well as the Egyptian Embassies in some other countries where the process are being held to follow their process and get benefit with their experiences.
Ichope Mar 30, 2013 05:59am
Why don't you appoint the High Commissions of Pakistan in each country to carry out the votes. It will be very simple, coz each Pakistani in say Hong Kong, is registered with the consulate; therefore voting can be done swiftly. But my disappointment is; why are you deciding about ways to vote now... Shouldn't this be done by now!
Dr.Muhammad Arif Nadeem Mar 30, 2013 06:01am
there is no legal and diplomatic issue from casting vote through the embassy,as per my information all egyptians and sudanese were allowd to cast vote for their country from saudi arabia,we can adapt the same mechanism,this is lame excuse that time is short,world is very fast now a days and you know where there is a will there is a way.
Salman Mar 30, 2013 06:59am
These so called problems have been highlighted by the ECP since 2009. Frankly thee are all excuses. This can be done very simply by providing hard copies of the voters lists for that country to the relevant embassy. The voting for overseas Pakistanis can be done one week before the elections and the names of voters who have cast their votes can be notified to the relevant district to record vote already cast. The voters can be identified thru their passport and Nicop. This will avoid double counting. No foreign govt will stop voting at the embassy .... many countries do this regularly. NO EXCUSES PLEASE
MEs Mar 30, 2013 08:19am
Egypts consulate is situated right next to Pakistans in Dubai. They were allowed to vote in full and voting went up till evening. There should not be an issue of holding in the country. However, the Pakistans consulate in Dubai has very less space. Need to arrange extra space. But should be done!
A Karim Mar 30, 2013 08:42am
Chief Justice, this is no rocket science. Here is a clear three step proposal for ECP. Tell them to implement it ..or let you know of an able private firm of reputation who can do it for payment. 1- Invite OS interested voters to collect their intent to vote forms from their nearest high commissions in top 10-12 OSP countries. Included in form will be their NICOP details, Constituency in Pakistan for NA/PA, latest address, phone number for verification, biometric (if necessary) 2- High commission to stream line the details (on computer) by allocatiing a unique number to each voter and constituency details and request ballots of NA/PA constituencies from ECP for each of their unique numbers. 3- A week before the elections Invite voters to register their vote on ballot and confirm their unique number (if necessary for traceability). High commissioner can be the presiding officer to record/consolidate the votes and submit them confidentially to the ECP before the election day.
A Karim Mar 30, 2013 08:47am
On item 3, High Comissioner can also invite Postal Ballots like they do it in UK for those who cannot be in their contituency on the election day.
Fayzee Mar 30, 2013 09:26am
The Egyptians have voted twice and Sudanese once for their country in Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries. Why not Pakistanis do the same? These are just lame excuses preventing a large community from voting. These people do not have faith in themselves and therefore these excuses. Lift your head and go ahead ECP, we are eager to vote for our desired candidates..
Dr Salman Asghar Mar 30, 2013 09:30am
Lame excuses. All Egyptians in KSA caste their votes at their Embassies.
M F Baig Mar 30, 2013 10:00am
Egypt and Sudan had presidential elections in which it is easier to cast and count votes as their are roughly only about 5-6 candidates. Egypt is a Unitary semi-presidential republic. And Sudan is a Federal presidential republic. While Pakistan is a Federal parliamentary republic where there are 300+ national assembly seats and 700+ provincial assembly seats. Therefore it would be a difficult and complex task to organize Overseas Pakistanis to vote in Elections 2013 to be held so soon.
junaid ahmed Mar 30, 2013 10:30am
Everything is possible, in uae Egyptian casted their votes and many other countries under went such political activities n process they are just misguiding the nation onces again this is not rock science
Ahmed Mar 30, 2013 11:18am
that would very simple and sensible wouldnt it.... as we know smarties in our system like to take the most absurd routes possible.
Muhammad Iqbal Mar 30, 2013 04:06pm
rocket science!