Overseas voters

Published August 20, 2018

NOT many would quibble with the contention that overseas Pakistanis should have the right to vote. However, to translate the objective into reality is another matter. Yet this is the conundrum the ECP must contend with in light of the order passed by the Supreme Court on Friday while hearing a dozen petitions on the issue.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar directed the electoral body to make arrangements forthwith to enable overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right of franchise in the coming by-elections on Oct 14. The chief justice proclaimed that with Nadra having designed an internet voting mechanism for the purpose, the ECP should complete its pilot projects to ensure the process is foolproof and flawless.

Except that it is not so simple.

Read: Voting from abroad

We need look no further than the recent election to realise the pitfalls in any electronic system that has not been extensively tested and retested. The last thing this country needs is a voting exercise that is as controversial as the one on July 25, in which the results consolidation and transmission process proved so shambolic that the bitterness and suspicion it gave rise to will linger for a very long time.

The issue of expat Pakistanis casting their vote is not a new one, and Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 deals explicitly with it, empowering the ECP to carry out pilot projects to “ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting”.

However, the process cannot be rushed.

One may recall that the electoral rolls for the 2013 elections turned out to contain major flaws because the ECP, under pressure from the apex court to compile the voters’ lists by its stipulated deadline, was unable to verify a significant percentage of voters. In that case, it was only voters resident in Pakistan; neither was there a newfangled electronic method involved.

The report of the task force set up by the ECP in April this year and made public just a few days ago details the daunting challenges involved in e-voting for overseas Pakistanis. There are an estimated 6m-plus eligible voters, which would make it the biggest exercise of the kind in the world by far. Moreover, one cannot discount the possibility of the process being compromised by foreign intelligence agencies, nor vouch for the votes having been cast in secrecy, and with free will.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018

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