LAHORE: The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) on Tuesday informed the Lahore High Court that it required a 12-month time for design, development, testing and implementation of new solution to i-voting after a contract by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

A written reply filed by the Nadra in a petition seeking rights for overseas Pakistanis to cast vote in upcoming local government polls in Punjab, said in April 2018, a formal contract was signed by the authority with the ECP for an internet-voting (i-voting) solution enabling the overseas Pakistanis to cast vote in the elections.

On the directions of the ministry of information technology & telecom, the authority floated on Jan 6, 2021 an international tender/expression of interest for hiring consultant for analysis, design and implementation of i-voting for overseas Pakistanis.

Consequently M/s MinsaIT was hired as consultant to evaluate i-voting solution used in the by-elections.

The report said the consultant in its report on Aug 2, 2021 exposed the system vulnerabilities in terms of voter privacy, encryption, auditability and verifiability. Therefore, it said, the Nadra proposed and presented a new system to the ECP with a completely different design catering for all the identified vulnerabilities.

The same presentation was also made before the concerned committee in the ministry of parliamentary affairs.

The report contended that based on the findings and recommendations contained in the consultant’s report, a completely new i-voting solution with an independent infrastructure owned and managed by the ECP is required to be implemented and developed.

It said if and when the ECP agrees to the Nadra’s proposal for development of a new i-voting solution, a fresh contract would be signed between the both institutions with or without modifications after addressing concerns of the commission.

“A 12-month implementation time required by Nadra for design, development, testing and implementation of the new solution will obviously start after contract by the ECP,” said the report.

It further stated that the ECP was not obliged to accept the Nadra’s proposal unless it was satisfied in all relevant respects nor was it bound to seek assistance from the Nadra alone and may involve any other authority or agency in the process along with or to the exclusion of the Nadra.

During the hearing, an additional attorney general told the court that the ECP was an independent institution and all other institutions were bound to obey its directions.

Justice Shujaat Ali Khan observed that the overseas Pakistanis were ambassadors of the country in the world and denying them right to vote would be a violation of the Constitution.

The judge expressed displeasure over the absence of the ECP secretary and warned him of imposing a fine.

The judge asked the law officer to come up with a clear response whether the government wanted to allow the overseas to cast vote, otherwise the court would decide the matter on merits.

The law officer pointed out that funds worth Rs2.4 billion were required for the development and implementation of the i-voting system.

The judge adjourned further hearing till June 14 and directed the law officer to ensure the appearance of the ECP secretary with a detailed reply on the matter.

Salman Shabbir, an overseas Pakistani living in Australia, filed the petition saying the overseas Pakistani enjoyed the right to participate in the election process under the article 17 of the Constitution and they could not be denied their right to vote on technical grounds like logistic arrangements made outside the country.

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the overseas Pakistanis had not been given the right to vote in the local government election in violation of the Constitution. He asked the court to declare that the overseas Pakistanis had the right to cast vote not only in the federal and provincial electorate but the electorate of the LG as well.

He further asked the court to order the respondents to take all necessary steps required to implement the fundamental right of vote to all overseas Pakistanis including arrangements all over the world before the upcoming LG elections in the province.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022

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