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ISLAMABAD, April 24: The caretaker government expressed its helplessness on Wednesday in extending the right of franchise this year to the Pakistanis living abroad because the newly developed e-voting software is fraught with complications.

“The software developed by Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority) to facilitate the casting of votes by the overseas Pakistanis will need another 18 months to stand the test… and become error-free,” Information Technology Minister Sania Nishtar informed a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

She said the government was facing difficulties in deploying the e-voting system for the overseas Pakistanis in the coming elections and sought guidance from the court.

In addition to the technical issues, the government is also facing diplomatic impediments. The Foreign Office has sought assistance from nine countries, including those in the Gulf region, but only two of them have responded and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has very little time left before May 11, the polling day. Dr Nishtar said that in the absence of proper training of staff at the Pakistani missions abroad, the success of the initiative depended on timely issuance of visas by the countries concerned. Any failure of the embassies to handle casting of votes on the polling day could result in protests that might create an embarrassment for the Pakistani institutions in foreign countries.

And in case of a lack of transparency in the voting process, there would be severe criticism of Pakistan by foreign countries, she feared.

She said allowing e-voting in a few countries might draw concerns from different political parties because they had different vote banks in different countries.

But the explanation offered by the minister failed to convince the Supreme Court which observed that it was the duty of the executive to solve difficulties but prima facie it appeared that the government had surrendered on this matter.

The court was also not happy with the ECP for wasting its time by not rendering proper assistance to it despite the fact that the case had been pending for two years.