In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on Friday permitted Pakistanis residing abroad to cast their votes in the upcoming by-polls.

"Many congratulations to overseas Pakistanis today," said Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, noting that it would be the first time that expat Pakistanis will be voting in a local election.

If the pilot project of overseas Pakistanis voting in the by-elections ends successfully, it will lead to the court granting expats the right to vote in the general elections.

The by-polls will be arranged to fill seats vacated by lawmakers who contested and won more than one seat in the July 25 elections, or for other reasons.

The judgement was issued by a three-judge bench headed by the CJP which was hearing petitions at the apex court's Lahore registry filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and others, seeking voting rights for overseas Pakistanis.

Justice Nisar directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to cooperate with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and ensure proper arrangements in order to make the pilot project a success.

The court ordered that results obtained from i-voting (internet voting) by overseas Pakistanis will be included in the final results of the by-polls.

However, the i-voting results will also be stored separately and will be taken out from the final count in case a conflict arises, the CJP ordered.

"The right to vote of overseas Pakistanis has been accepted," Justice Nisar remarked, adding that it was now up to the ECP to implement the verdict and fulfil its duty of holding the elections.

"The pilot project should be completed according to ECP regulations and operation plan," he ordered, adding: "[We] are grateful to the ECP and Nadra for building the pilot project."

The top judge ordered Nadra to cooperate with ECP to make the electoral process of the pilot project fool-proof.

Apparently dispelling the impression that the i-voting project would be an informal exercise, the CJP emphasised: "[That this is being done on] an experimental basis does not mean that its results should be ignored."

The SC had in June put off the case relating to the grant of right of vote to 7.9 million overseas Pakistanis until after the July 25 general elections when it was informed that the idea could not be materialised due to paucity of time and need for multiple tests of the specially designed software.

A task force comprising IT experts constituted by the ECP to examine the possibility of introducing internet voting facility for overseas Pakistanis had warned earlier this week that the system is likely to be attacked by foreign governments and intelligence agencies.

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