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ISLAMABAD: The continuing tepid response from overseas Pakistanis to the internet-voting facility has raised questions whether the grant of voting rights was a demand of the expatriates after all.

Informed sources told Dawn that out of total 4,677 Pakistanis from Lahore’s PP-168 settled in dozens of countries across the globe, only three individuals — one each from Germany, Spain and the United Arab Emirates — chose to get themselves registered to vote in the by-election in the constituency scheduled for Dec 13.

This means only 0.06 per cent of them opted for registration and it is not certain if they will be voting. The voters from the constituency had been given 15 days for online registration.

Only three of 4,677 overseas Pakistanis from PP-168 constituency get themselves registered for voting

The Punjab Assembly seat from PP-168 had been vacated by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz stalwart Khawaja Saad Rafique following his election as a member of the National Assembly from NA-125 in by-poll. He defeated Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Humayun Akhtar.

This appears to be the second failed experiment of I-voting carried out on the orders of Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar. The first pilot project was conducted by providing the facility to the voters from 35 constituencies of national and provincial assemblies on Oct 14.

Each vote cast by overseas Pakistanis in those by-elections cost the national exchequer over Rs15,000. An amount of Rs95 million was incurred on the exercise. Out of the 7,364 registered overseas voters, only 6,233 cast their votes.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had allowed overseas Pakistanis to vote through the internet and declared that votes would not be included in the count if some controversy cropped up, but later decided to include them in the final count. During the process of online registration in September, only 7,419 of the 632,000 overseas Pakistanis got themselves registered for I-voting and of them 6,322 (83.56pc) had actually availed of the facility.

Section 94 of the Elections Act reads: “The Commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the Government, which shall, within fifteen days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament).”

The Supreme Court had, however, ordered that the votes be included in the final count if the exercise was completed successfully.

The ECP had been pleading before the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms that it would be unwise to introduce the system in haste. The commission was of the view that the mechanism would be complicated in the context of ensuring election principles, including secrecy of ballot.

A task force’s report on I-voting submitted by the ECP to the apex court and placed on its official website had noted that the system did not ensure ballot secrecy as required under Clause 94 of the Elections Act 2017 and Article 226 of the Constitution. The shortcoming is inherent to the proposed model of the internet-voting system.

The report stated that foreign agencies posed an entirely different class of threat as compared to ordinary hackers. These organisations had vast resources and capabilities at their disposal, it said, adding that their attacks could be extremely stealthy and of a magnitude that was sometimes difficult for a layman to even comprehend.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2018

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