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ISLAMABAD, Sept 26: Though the Election Commission (EC) granted 3.7 million Overseas Pakistanis the right to vote months ago and their names were included in the final electoral rolls, yet the commission is in a fix over the modalities for it, according to sources.

The commission discussed the matter at a meeting held with Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim in the chair on Wednesday, but the state of confusion persisted over a feasible mode for implementing the intricate plan.

After considerable deliberation, it was decided that the buck be passed on to the political parties.

The matter will now be taken up at the consultative meeting with political parties to be held on Thursday (today).

Top leaders of 15 mainstream political parties have been invited either to personally attend or send their senior representatives to the meeting to discuss matters concerning the forthcoming general elections.

The options already discussed by the Commission included: setting up of polling stations in embassies and consulates in over a dozen countries where large numbers of Pakistanis live or work, and allow expatriates in other countries to cast their votes through postal ballot. Another proposal is to allocate some seats in national and provincial assemblies, the Overseas Pakistanis being the electoral college.

But, the commission has now realised that none of the proposed modes was practicable. An official pointed out that there was a ban on political activity in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries where most of the eligible Overseas Pakistani voters reside. He said there were 1.7 million Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and 1.2 million in the United Arab Emirates. Another problem was deployment of staff in the Pakistani missions abroad.

About the proposal for postal ballots, the official said the electoral process takes around 45 days to complete and only 15-20 days would remain after the publication of final list of candidates – a time too short for the process involving postal ballots. He said it was also not feasible to stretch the timeline to facilitate the overseas Pakistanis.

The official said suggestions would now be invited from the political parties on ways to get Overseas Pakistanis involved in the political process and enabling them to cast their votes in a fair, transparent and acceptable manner.

Though the work on a proposal to give the right to vote to Overseas Pakistanis has been continuing for quite some time, the Supreme Court, on a petition filed by PTI chief Imran Khan, recently directed the Election Commission to study whether Pakistanis living abroad could exercise the right and work out a plan in the light and experience of other countries.

WOMEN VOTERS: In a step towards curbing the trend of women’s disenfranchisement, the EC on Wednesday unanimously approved a draft bill providing for re-poll on the polling stations where less than 10 per cent of women votes were polled. The draft bill meant to increase the number of women participation in the electoral process and to prevent certain groups and parties entering into agreement restraining women of a particular area or polling station from exercising their right to vote will now be sent to the Ministry of Law for submission to the parliament for legislation.

ELECTION DAY: The commission also decided to observe Election Day on October 17 to sensitise the electorates about the significance of vote. Additional Secretary Election Commission Muhammad Afzal Khan told Dawn that it would be made a permanent feature from now on.

ELECTION SCHEDULE: The Election Commission also announced schedule for bye-election on eight seats that fell vacant after the disqualification of 11 lawmakers found to be holding dual nationality in violation of article 63 (1) (C) of the constitution. Under the amended law the respective political parties will submit names of their candidates to the election commission to fill the vacancies in the national and provincial assemblies that fell vacant due to disqualification of MNA Farahnaz Ispahani and MPAs Nadia Gabol and Amna Buttar from Sindh and Punjab respectively.

Nomination papers for three seats in the national assembly, four seats in the Punjab assembly and one seat in the Sindh assembly would be received on October 8 and 9 while polling will take place on November 17.


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