ISLAMABAD: A group of citizens has approached the Supreme Court asking it to order Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that the overseas Pakistanis were given the right to vote in the upcoming local bodies’ elections.

The plea has been raised through a set of petitions moved by Solicitor Mohammad Dawood Ghaznavi, Farhat Javed, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Zakir, Mujahid Ali Khan, and Zakir Hussain. The petition states that the denial of the right to overseas Pakistanis to participate in the democratic process would mean refusal by the government to carry out its constitutional obligation.

The petition states that Pakistan was the homeland of overseas Pakistanis who contribute almost $18 million annually to its economy through remittances.

Ghaznavi, who also contested the 2013 by-election from PP-123 (Punjab), stated that he was speaking for eight million Pakistanis living abroad.

The petition states that the Supreme Court must facilitate the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis. It says that the right of overseas Pakistanis to vote is recognised under Article 17 of the constitution. The petition adds that logistical arrangements must be made outside the country to allow them to cast their votes.

The federal government, through the ECP, the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra), and the law secretary, has been named as respondent.

In order to implement the Supreme Court ruling, the ECP had taken up the matter with the relevant government authorities, and ultimately the President, to amend the Representation of the People Act 1976 and the Electoral Rolls Act 1974.

Legislation was also tabled before the Senate but could not pass due to which overseas Pakistanis were denied the right to vote in local bodies’ elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) this year.

The petition lays the blame on the federal government, stating that it was in violation of its constitutional obligation. The petition states that since Nadra developed software could have allowed overseas Pakistanis to vote in 2013. However, it was due to the lack of cooperation of the ministries and government departments that the plan could not be materialised.

The petition states that overseas Pakistanis voted in the 2002 referendum but were denied the right to vote in the 2002 general elections which proved that the government was willing to allow them the right to vote only when it suited the government’s own interests.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2015

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