ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is the only political party in the country which hopes that the overseas Pakistanis can exercise their right to vote during the upcoming general elections, it emerged on Friday.
The other mainstream parties believe that efforts to bring those countrymen on the voter list will bear no fruit, particularly at a time when the polls are just a few months away.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have the apprehensions that pursuing this matter a few months before the elections can create complications and any step taken in haste can generate a controversy during the elections.
Leaders of these two parties say that the PTI is pushing for the matter believing that since it receives big donations from foreign countries for its charity hospitals, all the overseas Pakistanis will vote for Imran Khan.
PPP, PML-N agree to idea but believe that time left for elections not sufficient to complete task
The PTI chairman in a Twitter posting on Thursday lauded Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar for ordering Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to find a way out and devise a mechanism on an urgent basis so that the overseas Pakistanis could take part in the elections due to be held in July.
While hearing the petition filed by the PTI for granting the overseas Pakistanis right to vote, the SC bench headed by CJP Nisar had on Wednesday observed that expatriate Pakistanis should be given the opportunity to cast their votes during the 2018 elections and emphasised the need for working in this direction on emergency basis. The bench had asked Nadra and the ECP to sit together and find a way to address the technical problems related to the matter.
“I congratulate the CJP for taking note of disfranchisement of the overseas Pakistanis and asking Nadra and the ECP to find ways to give them their right of vote. Overseas Pakistanis are our most valuable asset,” Mr Khan tweeted.
He said that overseas Pakistanis sent $20 billion annually in remittances and they are playing a vital role in reviving and stabilising the country’s economy. “Some of our best brains are working abroad enlightening Pakistan’s image,” he said, expressing the hope that overseas Pakistanis would play a leading role in building ‘Naya Pakistan’.
The PPP and PML-N leaders on the other hand say in principle they agree that the overseas Pakistanis should have the right to vote. However, they point out that keeping in view the large number of expatriates living in various countries and with the limited resources and capabilities of the ECP and Nadra, it seems almost impossible that such a proposal can be turned into reality any time soon.
When contacted, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said his party is in favour of granting the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis. Former prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani soon after his election had announced in the National Assembly that overseas Pakistanis would be granted this right, he recalled.
Mr Babar said the ECP also made efforts to this effect and even conducted mock exercises, but it could not come out with a workable mechanism. He said it would be incorrect to say that the PPP was not enthusiastic on the issue. He pointed out that they were not pursuing the matter because the ECP and Nadra had declared that voters’ biometric verification, use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voting by overseas Pakistanis would not be possible in the 2018 elections.
Mr Babar said that during the meetings of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, a participant had claimed that India had granted the right of vote to its expatriates, but later this claim proved wrong.
PML-N’s information secretary Mushahidullah Khan was of the view that the PTI was unnecessarily dragging the issue, perhaps in “hope of creating another controversy” ahead of the next polls. He claimed the PTI also knew that it would not be possible to devise any mechanism for providing an opportunity to the overseas Pakistanis to use their right of vote.
The PML-N leader said a large number of Pakistanis were working in Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and they belong to almost all the 272 constituencies of the National Assembly. He said that providing ballot papers of their respective constituencies to these Pakistanis would be a daunting task.
PTI information secretary Shafqat Mehmood, however, said that his party would continue making efforts in this regard considering it a fundamental right of overseas Pakistanis.
Mr Mehmood alleged that deliberate efforts were being made to drag the matter since the PPP and the PML-N knew that they would not get many votes from abroad.
The PTI leader said that the Supreme Court had first issued an order in 2013 in favour of the overseas Pakistanis’ right, but no serious efforts were made during the past five years to achieve that goal. He said that in the 21st century and in the age of technology, it should not be a difficult job and at least an app could be developed.
In reply to a question about the little left before the elections, Mr Mehmood said his party believed that it was still possible, provided there was a political will for it.
In 2015, the ECP had informed the parliamentary committee concerned that the mock exercise it carried out for voting by overseas Pakistanis in four countries had failed for a number of technical and legal reasons.
The ECP officials told the committee that they had carried out the mock exercise in seven embassies, high commissions and consulates in which only employees of the foreign missions had been asked to cast their votes for `candidates’ through postal ballots and telephone voting.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2018