ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has been moved to ensure the implementation of its 2018 direction to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to develop a system for providing effective right to vote to overseas Pakistanis.

The petition, which was filed on Wednesday by Dawood Ghazanfar, a solicitor in the US through his counsel Mohammad Iqbal Kokab, apprised the apex court that the ECP had failed to devise any voting mechanism for overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the upcoming local government or general elections in Pakistan.

The SC in its judgement — authored by former Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar — had expressed the confidence that the mechanism of I-voting being developed at that time with the objective to grant right of vote to 7.9 million overseas Pakistanis “will be safe, reliable and effective”.

Ex-CJP Nisar in the order on a set of petitions filed by PTI Chairman Imran Khan and some citizens on behalf of Mr Ghaznavi and Farhat Javed Siddiqui had asked the ECP not to exclude the votes cast by the overseas Pakistanis from the official result of the then by-election in which “the system was used as a pilot project” even if it was not satisfied about the integrity, safety and reliability of the I-voting system.

Petitioner claims ECP failed to devise mechanism for overseas Pakistanis to vote in upcoming polls

In their petitions, the applicants had taken the plea that the denial of right to overseas Pakistanis to participate in Pakistan’s democratic process would mean a refusal by government to carry out its constitutional obligation.

The fresh petition by Mr Ghazanavi also recalled how the SC had directed the ECP and Nadra to develop a system to provide overseas Pakistanis with an effective right to vote.

An extensive exercise was undertaken and as a result an overseas voting solution (internet voting, better known as i-voting system) was developed at the cost of Rs16m to Rs17m, it stated. Besides, it argued, the ECP and Nadra had given different presentations to the SC regarding the safety, integrity and workability of the voting system.

The SC was informed that overseas Pakistanis’ constitutional right to vote enshrined in Article 17 had been infringed upon by not providing those living abroad the facility of a voting mechanism during the general elections and local government election in Pakistan.

The petition argued that the apex court had clearly stated in an earlier decision that since overseas Pakistanis enjoyed the right to participate in the election process in terms of Article 17, they could not be denied the same rights on technical grounds, i.e. logistic arrangements made outside the country for casting their votes.

The court was informed that the ECP had so far failed to devise any voting mechanism for overseas Pakistanis to cast vote in the local government and general elections in Pakistan. Voting mechanism for expats is not a new phenomenon as over 55 countries are providing this facility.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2022

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