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The Supreme Court of Pakistan. — AFP Photo

ISLAMABAD: A day after rejecting Dr Tahirul Qadri’s petition on the basis of his dual nationality, the Supreme Court handed out on Thursday a set of proposals for ensuring voting rights to overseas Pakistanis in the coming general election.

The court noted that the task appeared to be arduous, but it suggested an immediate meeting between the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Ministries of Interior and Overseas Pakistanis to devise a mechanism for the purpose and wanted the outcome to be submitted by Feb 22.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry gave the suggestions during the hearing of a petition filed by PTI chief Imran Khan seeking voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad.

One of the suggestions was to convert the Pakistani missions abroad into polling stations to facilitate the expatriates to cast their votes.

The court was informed that a complete voters’ list along with ballot papers of 272 constituencies across the country would have to be dispatched to each Pakistani mission and guarded jealously for secrecy.

The ECP will also consider early enrolment of all voters living abroad who will submit their sealed ballot papers to the missions on the election day. The court asked the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the Ministries of Overseas Pakistanis and Interior to extend all possible assistance to the ECP. It ordered the speeding up of the process of issuing National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) to those who did not have the card.

The court noted that no legislation was required to extend the facility of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis but, if needed, the task should be completed with the assistance of Attorney General Irfan Qadir preferably before the elections.

An appropriate number of ballot papers are needed to be sent to the missions in advance after ascertaining the exact number of voters in a given area. The ECP will dispatch ballot papers to the returning officers concerned to be nominated or appointed. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior will assist the ECP in this regard.

During another hearing, the Supreme Court was informed by Nadra that the authority had issued 4.4 million identity cards to overseas Pakistanis (3.7m men and 612,830 women) in 20 countries -- over 1.5m in Saudi Arabia, 1.3m in the UAE, 829,080 in the UK, 197,540 in the US, 19,465 in Germany and 150,020 in Canada. The figure does not include people who have gone abroad from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The attorney general informed the court that a draft bill for granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis was ready and would soon be tabled in the National Assembly. He said the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis had been engaged in devising voting procedures.

The court asked the ECP to submit a report on the registration of votes of overseas Pakistanis holding national identity cards.

The chief justice said most of the expatriates had no idea whether their votes had been registered.

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