A meeting of the federal cabinet was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan.
A meeting of the federal cabinet was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan.

KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to allow dual-national Pak­is­tanis to contest elections in the country.

A meeting of the federal cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thur­s­day, also decided to bring five major regulatory bodies under the cabinet and approved a proposal for removing the column of profession from the national passport.

The prime minister briefed the cabinet members on his US visit and termed it a successful one in which he had presented the country’s case in a befitting manner. About the opposition’s ‘black day’ protest across the country on the occasion of the first anniversary of the general election, he said the government had no policy to block opposition’s public meetings.

The Special Assistant to the PM on Infor­ma­tion, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, said PM Khan wants dual national Pakistanis to become part of the country’s political system.

Briefing reporters soon after her arrival at Karachi airport about the 10-point agenda taken up by the cabinet, she said the prime minister had set up a high-powered committee comprising officials from the ministries concerned to suggest ways for making overseas Pakistanis legislators so that they could contribute to the country’s economy.

Cabinet decides to bring five major regulatory bodies under its purview; PM briefs meeting on his US visit

Dr Awan said two of those points were solely about overseas Pakistanis — their voting rights and the mechanism to allow them to become members of parliament.

PM Khan had a vision to utilise the talent and resources of overseas Pakistanis and dual nationals, she said. Therefore, she added, he had set up a committee representing ministries of foreign affairs, interior, parliamentary affairs and overseas Pakistanis to suggest a mechanism to remove hurdles in the way of dual nationals becoming legislators.

Ms Awan said the PM had issued directives to the relevant ministries as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan to come up with a comprehensive programme for giving voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. The decision, if implemented, will require an amendment to the Constitution as its Article 63 (c) reads: “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.”

Ms Awan pointed out that the ECP had started the process of registration of overseas Pakistanis as voters, but it stopped for some reasons. “Now the PM has directed the ECP and other relevant departments to restart the process of registration of overseas Pakistanis on a war footing.”

Overseas Pakistanis as voters

A debate on the issue of registration of overseas Pakistanis as voters and allowing the dual nationals to contest the elections has been going on in the country for years. Some legislators were even disqualified for being dual nationals.

In October last year, the Supreme Court disqualified PML-N senators Haroon Akhtar and Sadia Abbasi, the sister of ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, for being dual nationals at the time of filing of their nomination papers.

Read: SC bars govt officials from holding dual nationality

Former chief justice Saqib Nisar had also asked the lawyers of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar and PML-N’s Nuzhat Sadiq to furnish their clients’ verified affidavits showing they had given up their second nationality before filing their nomination papers.

Similarly, on the insistence of the PTI, the issue of allowing overseas Pakistanis to vote was thoroughly discussed by the special parliamentary committee on election reforms during the previous PML-N government’s tenure. The PPP and PML-N always supported the idea of giving the right of vote to the overseas Pakistanis, but their members in the committee did not press for it when the ECP resisted the move.

The committee members were informed that even India had been unable to allow its nationals living abroad to poll their votes for certain reasons.

Mock exercise

On the directives of the parliamentary committee, the ECP conducted a mock exercise in four countries. However, the ECP officials informed the committee that the exercise had failed due to some technical and legal reasons.

They said they had carried out the mock exercise in seven embassies, high commissions and consulates in which only employees of the foreign missions had been asked to poll their votes for fictitious candidates through postal ballots and telephone voting.

However, not a single vote could be polled through telephone call whereas the postal ballots took six to 14 days to reach the ECP.

During the exercise, the ECP faced difficulties in handling a paltry 67 postal ballots that were polled, whereas 1.8 million overseas Pakistanis were living in Saudi Arabia alone.

Another problem that the ECP pointed out to the committee was that it had sent the ballot papers to overseas Pakistanis through email, whereas a significant number of Pakistanis working as labourers abroad had no access to emails.

Later, the ECP and Nadra informed the parliamentary committee that voters’ biometric verification, use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voting by overseas Pakistanis would not be possible in the 2018 elections because of security of data, if provided for online or offline verification of voters.

Read: I-voting drive draws tepid response from overseas Pakistanis

The ECP, however, was later asked by the SC to initiate the process of registering the overseas Pakistanis as a pilot project to allow them to vote in the by-elections which were to be held in 37 constituencies of national and provincial assemblies in October last year. However, only 7,419 overseas Pakistanis got themselves registered and when the by-elections were held, a little over 6,000 exercised their right of vote.

Regulatory bodies

It was decided to bring these regulatory bodies under the cabinet till further order: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Frequency Allocation Board, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The prime minister emphasised the need for reducing the role of regulations and regulatory authorities with the assistance of provincial governments and relevant departments so as to boost economic activities in the country and remove hurdles coming on account of regulations, said an official press release issued after the meeting.

Foreign visits of ex-rulers

A briefing was given on foreign visits by former rulers belonging to the two main opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — and it was decided that the money spent on their private visits, their camp offices and medical treatment should be recovered from them.

It was also decided that the government would review replies to the audit paras made during the two previous governments of PML-N and PPP.

“During the last 10 years former rulers have paid 333 foreign visits with 9,003 people at a cost Rs4.47 billion,” the press release said.

The meeting was informed that both PIA and Pakistan Post had become profit-earning organisations. PIA earned Rs46 million during the last two months. Similarly, Pakistan Post earned Rs18.05bn this year against last year’s Rs10.8bn.

Besides, the cabinet extended for 120 days the time for implementation of the 8th Wage Board Award for media persons. “While announcing the award, the government had allowed 180 days to the committee concerned for making a comprehensive report to implement it, but unfortunately the nomination of its members representing media owners was delayed. Now the prime minister has given another 120 days to complete the task within the stipulated timeframe so that the media workers are given their due rights,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2019