ISLAMABAD: Major political parties, particularly the PML-N and the PPP, have opposed the introduction of an online voting system which would benefit 7.9m overseas Pakistanis in the upcoming general elections.
Prepared by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the software for the online voting was presented to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Nadra’s presentation demonstrated how the Rs150 million online system could benefit the overseas Pakistanis.
However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also expressed reluctance to decide hastily on the matter, highlighting the need to test the software by conducting mock elections to weed out security concerns.
Experts from renowned institutions have also expressed apprehension regarding the system’s security from attacks by hackers.
Nadra presents Rs150m software before SC to extend voting to overseas Pakistanis
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, who is heading a three-judge SC bench, observed that the court did not want to pollute the election system that may create doubts in the process, and hinted at appointing a taskforce of experts for re-verification so that the system can run smoothly and without any threats.
“Casting votes is a sacred right,” Justice Nisar observed, and asked the experts to assist in validating the programme. The final decision to approve the mechanism for voting by overseas Pakistanis has to be made by parliament, he said.
In the meantime, the ECP will seek output from IT experts to find loopholes in the new system.
The court had taken up a set of petitions moved by PTI Chairman Imran Khan and a group of citizens, including solicitor Mohammad Dawood Ghaznavi, Farhat Javed and others pleading that the denial of the right to participate in the democratic process for overseas Pakistanis was a refusal by the government to carry out its constitutional obligation.
Instead of courtroom No1, the presentation was held in the SC auditorium in the presence of political parties’ representatives, experts and television cameras.
Nadra Chairman Usman Yousuf Mobeen explained before the court how the authority had developed the software in collaboration with the ECP. The software would allow overseas Pakistanis to vote in their home constituencies according to the voter list from home, using internet-connected devices such as a computer, smartphone or tablet.
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed from the PML-N asked the court not to experiment with the system in the upcoming elections, which would be bitterly contested.
He also invited the court’s attention towards concerns expressed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding electronic manipulation in the 2018 general elections.
On a lighter note, the chief justice observed that Senator Hussain’s opinion would have been different had it been solicited three months ago. However, he conceded that the ECP was overburdened with 1,286 litigations on the delimitation of constituencies alone.
PPP’s Naveed Qamar agreed with Senator Hussain, saying the online voting software should be made ready for the next elections after 2018, which should be held after biometric verification.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Arif Alvi cited the example of Brazil, where he said such a system had been a success.
MNA Usman Kakar asked the court to first extend the right of franchise to those who were not allowed to cast their votes, such as women in Fata.
Taha Ali from the National University of Sciences and Technology (Nust)’s School of Electrical Engineering told the court that countries such as the United States, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and France had rolled back similar software because the systems were hacked by manipulating over 60,000 online votes. He emphasised that any online system could be hacked.
Another expert from Pakistan Television expressed a similar opinion.
During the presentation, the Nadra chairman also conceded that no system was foolproof but added that precautions had been taken in the system against threats.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan acknowledged difficulties but said the first step had to be taken since the right to vote for Pakistani expatriates was a constitutional obligation. He said the system could be fine-tuned.
Published in Dawn, Aprill 13th, 2018