LAHORE: The Supreme Court has directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure that overseas Pakistanis exercise their right to vote in the upcoming by-polls in the country as a pilot project.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar passed the order on Friday while hearing over a dozen petitions seeking directions for the ECP to make arrangements to enable overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote.

Initially, these petitions were moved by solicitor Muhammad Dawood Ghaznavi and other expatriates in 2015 while Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan became party to the proceedings in January 2018.

Upcoming by-elections to be the pilot project

During Friday’s proceedings at the Lahore registry of the apex court, ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh told the bench that rules had been framed in the light of its power enshrined under Section 239 of the Elections Act 2017.

He said that a mechanism of i-voting (internet voting) had been evolved with the contribution of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to facilitate overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote. Nadra chairman Usman Mobeen was also present in the court.

“Congratulations to overseas Pakistanis,” the CJP said and observed that it would be for the first time that expatriates would participate in the polling process.

The chief justice directed the ECP and Nadra chief to complete the pilot projects in view of the election law and make sure that the process of i-voting was foolproof and flawless.

The chief justice also ordered the ECP to conduct pilot projects for i-voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-polls to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of voting and present the results before parliament as required under section 94 of the Elections Act 2017.

He further directed the ECP to keep the results of the i-voting segregated from the basic balloting process so that it could not affect the election results in case any dispute arose.

An expatriate present in the court approached the rostrum and extended his gratitude to the chief justice on behalf of overseas Pakistanis. He also invited Chief Justice Nisar to visit the US where overseas Pakistanis had plans to collect money for the fund established by the Supreme Court for the construction of dams. He said the overseas Pakistanis living in the US would contribute around $1 million to the national cause.

The CJP pointed out that he had been receiving invitations to visit overseas Pakistanis in different countries who could donate around $1 billion for the dams. However, the chief justice said he would not be able to visit more than a couple of countries i.e. US and UK.

He hinted at visiting overseas Pakistanis along with the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and the Wapda chairman not to collect funds but to sensitise the expatriates to the importance of the water issue.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018