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Overseas Pakistanis: Left out in the cold

Published May 09, 2013 07:59pm


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On May 11, voters across the country will head to their respective polling stations for what have become the most hotly contested parliamentary elections in recent history – and for the first time the contest is not between two major parties but three.

Unfortunately for registered Pakistani voters who live abroad, and whose numbers range from 3.7 to 4.5 million, we will not participate in this important decision. This is because the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) insists that the electronic software which would allow us to vote is simply not in place.

This is strange because the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) is adamant that the e-voting system it was mandated to prepare is ready. It was all done kind of last minute, but is ready nonetheless. Under this system, a voter who showed his/her National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (Nicop) and machine-readable Pakistani passport would have been able to vote online at the Pakistani embassy/consulate in his/her respective city.

The ministry of finance and the overseas Pakistanis’ ministry also indicated their readiness, while the ministry of foreign affairs confirmed it had sought and received permission from various countries to conduct polling, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Canada and the United Kingdom.

But the caretaker government announced that the whole process was simply too big to be carried out. With an estimated 1.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia, 1.3 million in the UAE, 367,988 in the UK, 131,589 in the US, 93,345 in Kuwait, 90,148 in Canada, 80,166 in Bahrain, and 71,874 in Qatar, it would surely be a logistics nightmare.

Don’t tell the Egyptians that. One of the reasons their presidential election last year was lauded as historic was that it provided six to eight million expatriates living in Europe, North America, and the Middle East the opportunity to participate in the first free elections of that country since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Yet, naysayers continue to argue against the overseas vote. Attorney General Irfan Qadir suggested that the ECP was not obliged to provide the facility to vote outside Pakistani territory. This implies that citizens who wish to vote should return to the country in time to cast their ballot. This is interesting, because last year the ECP granted overseas Pakistanis the right to vote and announced that their names would be included in the preliminary electoral rolls. Surely it did not expect them to return en masse in order to exercise that right.

ECP’s Khurshid Alam argued that for Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, voting would require permission from a kingdom that does not hold elections. “Why would they allow a democratic process [in their country] for other citizens when they don’t allow it for their own citizens?” Probably for the same reason that they allowed 300,000 Filipinos to participate in Overseas Absentee-Voting (OAV) last year. And gave the go-ahead for Pakistanis to do the same.

Jeddah resident Sajjad says: “I personally know people from the Philippines who took half a day off from work to go and vote in their last elections. Now I'm envying them. As an overseas Pakistani I do expect to have a say in how my country is run and the inability to vote has completely divorced me from the democratic process. As the largest source of funds for the Pakistani treasury, I expect some representation, however ineffective or minute it may be.”

Urooj in Edmonton, Canada feels the same: “Overseas Pakistanis should get the chance to vote as a lot of them long to go back to Pakistan like they did during the Musharraf era and take investment with them if they see hope for the future.”

As does Hina in Milton, Canada: “If the Pakistan government does not object to dual citizenship, it should honour the rights of citizens abroad by allowing them to be part of the decision-making process.”

Caretaker Information Technology Minister Dr Sania Nishtar suggested that “something like a postal ballot system or some other thing” may be made available to overseas Pakistanis.  But at the time of writing, according to the ECP website, this facility is still available “only to persons in government service, members of the armed forces, holders of public offices, their wives and such of their children as are registered voters.”

Why the hesitation? Is it due to concerns regarding transparency of the electoral process? Or is the concern to do with the political impact of overseas votes? According to the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, there are on average 7,000 overseas Pakistani voters in each of the 272 National Assembly constituencies. This is a significant number and the general consensus is that the major beneficiary of overseas votes would be the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.

This is probably why Imran Khan has been most vociferous in demanding that Pakistanis abroad be allowed to participate in the electoral process. It was Khan who in 2011 filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the matter, and since then has repeatedly appealed for it to ensure a positive outcome. A three-judge panel headed by the chief justice declared that there was no need for legislation to give voting rights to overseas Pakistanis and ordered the ECP to facilitate their participation.

Desperate for change

Once considered an outcast on the political landscape, PTI has shown in recent weeks that it is in a strong position to lure votes away from Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz. Many Pakistanis have become supporters of the rookie political party and consider it to be the only choice come Election Day. And Pakistanis who live overseas are no exception.

“The only hope for Pakistan is Imran Khan who for all intents and purposes must be tried. We all must support this party. We badly need a change,” says Faizan in Markham, Canada.

Abid in Mississauga concurs: “Imran Khan is saying everything that the country and people need such as grassroots empowerment, local government rule, no discretionary funds for assembly members, no drone attacks and so on. PTI's manifesto more or less says what the country needs.”

Some are not so convinced. Yasir in Dubai puts it bluntly: “Why should we buy into a good-looking former cricket captain who has no track record of government administration?”

While Tazeen in Mississauga says she personally feels “Imran Khan needs more time to work on his leadership qualities. If he is elected by the majority vote then it'll be out of majboori. He would just be someone who benefited from the current level of voter dissatisfaction.”

The majority, however, is desperate for change and despite having some reservations is willing to give Khan’s party a chance:

Zehra in New York says “PTI is the only political party which gives Pakistan any hope for a better tomorrow. There are reservations about the party, regarding for example their stance on Ahmedis. But we want change and not more of the same, such as PPP, MQM and PML-N.”

Yadullah in Toronto says “I don't see Imran Khan as the great Messiah, but his party has already broadened the pool of people participating in the elections and has forced other parties to wake up from their states of complacency. For all his flaws and conservatism, he has energised many who had lost hope. In a country that often times seems hopeless, that's a step forward.”

Adnan in Minneapolis admits: “I'm not a PTI supporter per se but if I had the opportunity to vote, I would give Imran Khan a chance, even though I have major reservations regarding his stance towards the Taliban. We've tried everyone else. The people just want to give someone else a shot.”

Wish list

 As to what overseas Pakistanis expect from the new elected government, their wish list is pretty much in line with that of the rest of Pakistan.

“I'm not looking for incredible changes, just the provision of basic rights to citizens so that food and water aren't a privilege but a part of daily life,” says Hina.

Zehra says she wants “a Pakistan which is free of American control and where a large part of the budget is allocated to education; most importantly, where there is patriotism and we are proud to call ourselves Pakistani; where minorities can live freely and we never ever see an army general as the head of state again.”

Urooj says she “would like to see more accountability. Laws are in place, but not implemented. Be it a minister or a common man, the law must treat them equally.”

Yasir says “we really need to get rid of the feudals once and for all. That will be enough of a change in this generation. Everything else will sort itself out.”

And last but not least, Adnan reminds that “future elected leaders should definitely look into implementing a process for overseas Pakistanis to vote. After all, many of them contribute a large chunk of the foreign exchange that comes into Pakistan”.

All said and done, “I think what is supreme is that these elections be fair”, says Turan in Oakville.

To read more about the voting aspirations of Pakistanis living in New York, click here.

Saima S. Hussain lives in Toronto. She is a former editor of Dawn’s “Books & Authors” magazine and author of “The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations, and Amazing Facts” (Annick Press, 2013).



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Comments (33) Closed

rana1 May 09, 2013 07:02pm
Am glad i did not register for any party, it would have been a waste of money.Its not easy earning a livelihood in these western countries,yet we support an economy that depends on overseas citizens remittances,and this is the thanks we get from the corrupt election commission of pakistan.
ahmed2030 May 09, 2013 07:08pm
We cant vote this is just pathetic. Shame on election commission and everyone else who did not put their 100% to make it happen.
Zeeshan May 09, 2013 07:35pm
I want to ask Supreme Court that what they did for the rights of overseas Pakistanis. We send remittances to Pakistan which is extremely critical for economy. Why SC kept hearing the Letter and Memo related cases why it did not do anything for our rights. Sorry to say but SC played role of a political party. Their involvement in unnecessary sou moto actions side tracked them from KEY issues. Why we gave so much support for SC when they can not provide/protect our rights? Do you have any answer to this Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhery?
nmg55 May 09, 2013 07:34pm
The Pakistani elections are not presidential election and are not voting for an individual. These are parlimentary election. To decide which NA or PA district a voter belongs to and getting the candidates for that respective districts is not easy.
concerned212 May 09, 2013 06:38pm
As an overseas Pakistani, I would certainly have voted for Imran. I have yet to see anyone from the Pakistani community backing anybody else but Imran for the upcomign general elections. I pray that PTI wins and brings back the glory and pride that Pakistan used to enjoy.
Faran May 10, 2013 12:23am
And don't pretend that you'd do so too at a moment's notice if given the chance. Unless of course, you are one of the beneficiaries of the corrupt system in place in Pakistan. Get of your high horse.
Jawad May 09, 2013 04:03pm
The care taker govenment and Election Commission are sold out. They are afraid that most overseas Pakistani's will vote for Imran.
Jamshed Khan May 09, 2013 07:52pm
@PTI: Overseas Pakistanis do far less harm to Pakistan than those living within its borders. Without the foreign exchange sent by overseas Pakistanis, the country will be bankrupt in no time. By being far away from the homeland, overseas Pakistanis love the country a lot more than you can imagine.
PTI May 09, 2013 03:44pm
Funny how people living abroad want to talk so much about Pakistan. You left the country, dont pretend that you care, period.
Abbas May 09, 2013 03:12pm
From Day one the government was not willing to give us voting rights another shameful act of PPP government.
Atif May 09, 2013 03:10pm
No businessmen and Feudals should ever be allowed to contest in Pols.
n dean May 09, 2013 05:51pm
Listen, we have tried every "Tom, Dick and Harry" none of those parties/Leaders worked for the benefit of the common folks/country. Whoever came to power filled their pockets and empty out the treasury. Its about time that people of this country come to their senses and bring in a change. ECP itself is made up of Crooks, It's not in their interest to allow oversees Pakistanis to Vote. As I see it country is being run by crooks and Thugs.
Hasan May 09, 2013 05:36pm
If overseas Pakistanis were eligible (which should have been the case) then PTI had won by significant votes. There are more open-minded people outside Pakistan, who know the situation better than majority living in Pakistan. Imran Khan is an honest, open-minded, optimistic and ambitious person capable of bringing a "change". All other leaders lack all of these properties.
independentthinker May 09, 2013 07:40pm
It is more pathetic that you are so concerned about Pakistan and yet, are not living there to bring a change. We Pakistanis - who are living abroad should not consider it our right - but truly a privilege, if we are given a chance to vote in the upcoming election. Let the people who are going to experience the benefits or suffer the consequences of the party elected, get full control of who is going to govern. We cannot, sitting thousands of miles away, be influencing the outcome of this election.
Khan May 10, 2013 04:00am
Well PTI, sorry you never had a chance to migrate but yes, things looks much clear when you look from a distance..
Khan May 10, 2013 03:58am
Please count Australia too a big chunck of pakistanies desprate to vote and would go for a change PTI...
Shaukat Basit May 10, 2013 03:29am
What the heck are you talking about? We are more patriotic than you. What have you done for Pakistan you leach.We remit millions of dollars to Pakistan every year to strengthen its economy.Every moment pray for its "SALAMTI".
Real PTI May 10, 2013 03:22am
do you know how many people do i support back home? please change your name to PML. dont deserve PTI
Israr Khan Ismail Zai May 09, 2013 06:02pm
Well, the majority of overseas Pakistnis' will vote for PTI, now i don't know if that is a reason of concern for "officials" in Pakistan??? Maybe.
Najam May 09, 2013 08:47pm
As a person who knows NADRA from the inside and who has about two decades of Information systems experience, I would have to say that pushing the voting software for this election would have had disastrous consequences. While the software also needs to go through a various testing processes to ensure that it would not cause any problems when goes live, the software is not the only issue. There are a number of other logistical issues that needs to be addressed. For example, making sure that the staff at all the consulates and embassies is well trained for the task at hand, consulates and embassies are well equipped with resources (including security, parking, computers, secure network connection etc.) to cater to the huge number of overseas Pakistanis all on the same day. Imagine a scenario where, due to any one of the reasons mentioned above, a consulate or embassy is unable to cater to the thousands of overseas Pakistanis standing outside the premises waiting to vote. If one thinks that upon hearing the news that due to some technical glitch that will not be able to vote, their protests will remain peaceful then that person is an eternal optimist. Another point I would like to make is that in this election, all the citizens of Pakistan
Azam May 09, 2013 10:49pm
I concur with Zeeshan. Do you have any answer Mr. Chaudhery? If the Software is so difficult to make then give this job to us and we will develop it for free, it is not a rocket science. But for GOD sake, overseas Pakistanis should not be neglected. We send so much money back home and then what do we get in return? Not even a choise to vote? This is ridiculous.
Zeeshan May 09, 2013 08:15pm
You are not are Lion.
noor May 09, 2013 08:10pm
You have made a very unfair statement here. Who gave you this authority to judge our association with the country. Living in Pakistan does not certify your love for the country either. If that would have been the case then you would be not be asking for change in leadership. The country was being ruled by people who were living IN the country and not in any foreign land. Stop being judgmental and try to play your role at this point in time. Pointing fingers will not bring any good to anyone. PERIOD !!!!!!!
Naila May 09, 2013 10:03pm
This travesty is going to hurt only one party .. PTI. I won't be wrong if I said that a very large majority of expats are for Imran Khan.
problems May 09, 2013 09:59pm
I find it interesting that none of the overseas pakistanis author has quoted talked about local issues. I was in Pakistan recently after a gap of four years. The problems we overseas Pakistanis see are at a very high level, e.g. war on terror, education, corruption. Whereas, people living in Pakistan are concerned more about basic issues, e.g. electricity, gas, water, petrol, inflation. In large parts of the country people are virtually living off their own electricity, i.e. generators. Just imagine that for a moment.
Rizwan HAsnie May 09, 2013 09:50pm
While living in USA, in 2002, I was able to cast my vote in Musharaff's referendum. This was a postal ballot addressed to the DC embassy. If it was possible in 2002, it is certainly possible in 2013. Also now, we had more option to vote online or electronically. It seems the EC had no will to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote. Could it be because a vast majority of overseas Pakistani are against PPP?
zubi May 09, 2013 09:30pm
we pakistani abroad are not allow to vote in elections or participate in elections this is becauseof chief justice and because of nawaz shareef politic they are the one who doing all this things and this is not justice and right thats why now its enough chief justice has to go we dont want justice we all paksitani need to file a case in the court about the insjustice they are doing to paksitani living abroad not allowing to vote
Muahmmad Ameen May 10, 2013 08:20am
what a joke and what a pity !!!!!
ID May 10, 2013 09:08am
Overseas Pakistanis are a resource for the nation of Pakistan. Pakistan should get their involvement and giving them the right to vote would be a massive step. In many cases these are hardworking people who have left their nation not for a better life but for a life! This is all thanks to our mostly corrupt and non-progressive leaders. Their contribution to the nation from overseas is far greater then it will ever be if they were still in Pakistan.
Hussain May 10, 2013 10:09am
Honestly and frankly the TRUTH is EC failed in her duty and over and above Mr SC chief Justice is a Politician and have NO TIME for his own duty.His only concerned is to punish Gen Musharaf.
Hussain May 10, 2013 10:18am
The bias and not sincere our judiciary is responsible for not making sure our right to cast vote.The whole fault is of Mr SC Chief Justice.
Tariq May 10, 2013 10:59am
It's sheer lack of will on part of the incompetent authorities as with almost everything in this pure land of our's. It's a disgrace!
Mansoor Ansari May 10, 2013 02:16pm
Considering the fact that this article was published on Dawn Newspaper's official website, I can't help but notice the numerous grammatical mistakes within this.