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ISLAMABAD: The plan to give right to vote to millions of overseas Pakistanis was given the final shape on Monday when it was decided that the expatriates would use the facility of internet-voting for the first time in upcoming by-polls, in the light of the Supreme Court verdict.

The decision was taken at a meeting held here with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad.

The National Database and Registra­tion Authority (Nadra) was directed to give a demonstration of the software prepared by it to the commission. The meeting decided to register all overseas Pakistanis desirous of availing the facility between Sept 1 and 15. Overseas Pakistanis holding national identity cards for overseas Pakistanis or machine readable passports would be able to get themselves registered as voters.

It was also decided to launch a voters’ awareness campaign for overseas Pakistanis in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nadra and Pakistani missions abroad so that more and more Pakistani expatriates could register themselves as voters.

Informal conversations with officials of the ECP and Nadra reveal that both the organisations were opposed to the idea of implementing the i-voting project in haste, observing that it could be disastrous and vulnerable to hackers. “We still have serious reservations and believe that the system is not secure, but after the Supreme Court orders, we have no choice but to go ahead with the plan,” one of the officials said.

A task force comprising IT experts constituted by the ECP to examine the possibility of introduction of the system had also noted that casting votes outside a poll-booth environment enabled vote buying and voter coercion. There is a real possibility that votes will be bought and sold overseas in regions where the ECP has no mandate to investigate or prosecute such attempts, says a report of the task force.

“We discover that users can easily mount attacks on this system using their web browsers, whereby they can cast votes for whichever national and provincial seat they choose, regardless of their constituency. These attacks can be launched with moderate technical ability and can easily be automated to manipulate votes at a large scale,” the report says.

Meanwhile, the ECP has fixed Sept 10 as the date for re-poll in PK-23 (Shangla) where it had annulled the elections for abnormally low turnout of female voters. According to a notification issued by the ECP on Monday, all arrangements for the poll will be made by the returning officer appointed on May 7.

Shaukat Ali of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had emerged victorious from the constituency by securing 17,399 votes.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018