Who should vote?

Published December 6, 2021

PRESIDENT Arif Alvi has signed into law the bills passed by the joint session of parliament, including the ones pertaining to electoral reforms. While there is a lot of concern and controversy over the use of electronic voting machines, greater transparency is also needed on the mechanics of voting rights for overseas Pakistanis.

The PTI government has pushed hard for these two reforms and cabinet ministers are now saying that enfranchising overseas Pakistanis will give the PTI a clear electoral advantage on at least a few dozen parliamentary seats. But who among the overseas Pakistanis will actually get to vote in the next general elections remains unclear.

Read more: ECP earns rare praise from Fawad for constituting technical committees on EVMs, voting rights for OSPs

This must change. Overseas Pakistanis can generally be divided into three categories.

The first are the Pakistan Origin Card holders who have surrendered their Pakistani nationality and use the card to facilitate their travel. The second are the holders of the National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistan, many of whom are dual nationals. The third are those Pakistanis who are working abroad but retain their green passports.

Lumping them all together for enfranchisement makes little sense.

Those in the first category have made a deliberate choice to renounce their Pakistani nationality and become loyal citizens of another state. This provides them voting rights in their new country of citizenship, and they also pay taxes accordingly. Making a case for them to have voting rights in Pakistan — whose citizenship they have relinquished by choice — is a difficult one. The second category of dual nationals getting voting rights is also problematic. They have taken an oath of allegiance to another country and therefore cannot claim eligibility for voting in their country of birth. In the past, Prime Minister Imran Khan has himself opposed the idea of giving dual nationals a right to vote.

It is the third category of people — Pakistani citizens working abroad — that have the strongest claim for enfranchisement. They have retained their citizenship, pay taxes here and do not have divided loyalties. Therefore, they have the full right to be given the right to vote in the next general elections. However, these details need to be chalked out at the earliest so preparations can be made accordingly. The complications within this decision — and there may be numerous — should be ironed out through a debate in a timely manner in order to inject transparency into the issue and not allow any confusion to fester.

Read more: Overseas voting

The complications may require a practical and solution-oriented approach. For instance, many countries that host Pakistani workers do not follow an electoral system of governance and may have reservations if Pakistan asked for preparations for voting. Similarly, logistical issues regarding transparency in the casting of votes also require detailed deliberations. The ECP may need to push for clarity from the government and move swiftly to address these issues.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021

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