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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf formally filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday a petition seeking a declaration for the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis who, the PTI insisted, were citizens of Pakistan and hence had the fundamental right to exercise their right of franchise whether or not they were in the country.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had asked Advocate Anwar Mansoor, the counsel for the PTI, to submit a petition, rather than an application, seeking the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis. The PTI had sought to become a party to the case, which the Supreme Court has been already seized with. A group of citizens had filed pleas stating that denying overseas Pakistanis the right to vote meant refusal on the government’s part to carry out its constitutional obligations.

Advocates Anwar Mansoor and Chaudhry Faisal Hussain then filed a petition on behalf of the PTI seeking directives for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and others to allow overseas Pakistanis to participate in the upcoming general elections.

The counsel representing the petitioner argued that the PTI was the only political party which had enjoyed immense trust amongst overseas Pakistanis, which was evident from the fact that the PTI received its greatest share of funding from abroad.

The lawyer argued that the right to vote was a human right recognised under the international law. The right to vote was also protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which was signed in 2008 and ratified by Pakistan in 2011.

The petitioner contended that the ECP was an independent and autonomous constitutional body which was responsible for conducting transparent, free, fair and impartial elections. The job of the chief election commissioner was to conduct elections to the office of president and the Senate.

The petition highlighted that the judgement in the Chaudhry Nasir Iqbal case (2014) was in line with PTI chief Imran Khan’s earlier contentions that under Article 189 of the Constitution, any directive passed by the apex court was binding on all courts of Pakistan, as well as executive and judicial authorities, including the ECP.

Similarly, Article 218 (3) of the Constitution implied that the ECP was responsible for not only conducting the election itself, but also for making necessary arrangements prior to the election. The Constitution conferred responsibility on the ECP to ensure that all activities prior to and subsequent to election day adhered to standards of fairness in accordance with the law. Citing constitutional provisions, the petition contended that it was the duty of executive authorities in the federation to assist the commission in the discharge of its functions.

It added that the electoral process was central to the discharge of sacred trust reposed by the people of Pakistan in their representatives, as envisaged by Article 2A of the Constitution. “This trust is to be discharged in a manner that fully observes the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam,” the petition said.

Therefore, it added, all actions and practices that interfered with, or distorted electoral exercise were to be seen as subversion of the sacred trust enshrined in the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2018

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