Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday appreciated efforts made by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) towards the development of a voting system that can empower overseas Pakistanis with the ability to vote in general elections.
Presided over by the chief justice, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court was hearing a case combining 16 petitions on the matter that it had accepted on January 5.
The petitions, filed by civilians, had appealed that the state set up appropriate infrastructure so that overseas Pakistanis — estimated to number at least eight million — can cast their vote in Pakistan's elections.
During Monday's hearing, Nadra Chairman Usman Mobin told the court that "the matter [development of a software] has been brought under discussion with the ECP."
"Work is underway on the software's development," he said. "It can [already] be tested on an experimental basis in mock elections and will be ready by the start of April."
At this, the chief justice said: "This is a very good news given by Nadra's chairman. He has given a very reasonable 10-week deadline."
"Nadra and the ECP should sit together and give overseas Pakistanis the gift of voting ability," he added, while instructing Nadra to furnish in court a progress report during the case's next hearing in a month's time.
Chief Justice questions PTI's role
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) counsel reminded the court that a similar software was developed by former chairman Nadra in 2012 as well, at which DG Nadra responded: "That software was not operational. For this software, the overseas voters will have to visit the embassies."
Justice Nisar questioned PTI's role — or lack thereof — on the overseas vote issue as well as electoral reforms, saying: "PTI claims that it has the support of overseas Pakistanis but when elections reforms were being formulated, where was PTI?"
"The government took out a clause [from the Elections Act] so we boycotted the legislation process," senior PTI leader Arif Alvi replied.
Would Husain Haqqani also get the right to vote, CJ asks
During Monday's session, Justice Umar Ata Bandial stressed the need for empowering overseas Pakistanis with their voting rights, saying: "The hearts of overseas Pakistanis beat for Pakistan."
To this, the chief justice remarked: "There are also some overseas Pakistanis who promised us but never came back."
"Where is Husain Haqqani? Would he also get the right to vote? Why don't we send him a notice to come here and face the Memogate case," he asked.
The CJ then asked for the Memogate file from the registrar's office.