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Election Commission of Pakistan. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan and the government appeared to be poles apart in the Supreme Court on Tuesday on the issue of extending the facility of electronic voting to Pakistanis living abroad.

While the court wishes to see the facility extended to overseas Pakistanis to enable them to cast their votes in the coming elections, the ECP insists that the electronic voting is not a feasible option at the moment.

Although the Ministry of Information Technology says the task is achievable with the help of sophisticated software, it agrees that it is not feasible in the coming elections.

During the hearing of a case relating to the grant of voting rights to Pakistanis living abroad, Director General of Elections Sher Afgan said a meeting held in the ECP on Monday had concluded that in the absence of a proper legislation the facility could not be extended at the moment. But he added that a team had been set up under him to develop a mechanism and procedures.

The meeting praised the apex court for providing guidelines and support and said the commission could not think of disobeying the court.

Mr Afgan said sensitive information, including complete particulars of womenfolk, was available with the ECP.

“Intelligence agencies and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) fear that with just one click of a button the entire data can be stolen or hacked,” he said, adding that 3.5 million of the 4.5m overseas Pakistanis were registered voters and also held National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP). About 3.1 million of them are registered with Nadra with their permanent and temporary home addresses in Pakistan and 5,694 with addresses outside the country.

Mr Afgan said that after July 31 last year, Nicop had been issued to another 34,239 expatriates and they were registered voters in Pakistani.

The court said it was not asking the ECP to open polling booths in all embassies and consulates. The commission should select a few embassies in major countries and ask people to come there and cast their votes on the election day and these should then be posted back to Pakistan electronically.

But Mr Afgan said picking and choosing embassies would itself make the entire exercise questionable and even if a mechanism was developed problems could emerge without prior testing. The main stakeholders in matter were political parties.

“No, the main stakeholders are the voters,” the chief justice corrected him.

At present, Mr Afgan said, there was no law to extend this right to outside Pakistan. Citing Article 222 (c) of the Constitution, he said that for the registration of a voter it was necessary that the person must live in a constituency. Besides, Section 7 of the Electoral Rolls Act 1974 bars registration of a voter outside his constituency. Attorney General Irfan Qadir informed the court that he had presided over a meeting on Monday in which Member Information Technology Mohammad Amir Malik said the task could be achieved by registering voice signatures of voters and then issuing passwords to them through post. Dedicated software could be developed to protect data from being hacked.

“Since software development is a complex and time consuming process as several barriers needed to be crossed, it may take at least 12 months to be ready,” the attorney general said. He said developed countries like Germany were facing issues with e-voting, adding that it was a total failure in Ireland while in India it was still a dream. But he admitted that elections would have to be switched to e-voting in future.

Once the ways and means are developed, Mr Qadir said, the competent authority could be requested to enact a legislation.

In its order the court said the ECP had to decide how to develop a practical and workable mechanism. It gave the commission a week to do the job.

Referring to the court’s June 8, 2012 verdict in the Workers Party case, Munir Paracha, representing the ECP, said that except for compulsory voting, electronic voting and an amendment to the ‘First Past the Post’ system of election in which a winning candidate, though declared successful, failed to receive an absolute majority, the rest of the directives in the judgment would be implemented.

Comments (18) Closed

avid_supporter Mar 20, 2013 05:37am
This is utter nonsense. The ECB can put the system in place on time if desired, but they all know that Imran Khan is a majority favourite amongst overseas Pakistanis.
Hassan Siddiqi Mar 20, 2013 05:52am
First of all, who says only electronic voting should be done? There is no need for e-voting! Phillipines and even Egypt did overseas voting in absentia through the Embassies in UAE. It's not rocket science! Over 4.4 million overseas Pakistanis with valid NICOP are being left out of the voting process. We send $12 billion USD in remittances to Pakistan, we deserve the right to vote!
Aamir Mar 20, 2013 06:04am
Why was the software development not thought about by ECP 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 years ago? What has it done during the past 5 years. Now that its time for elcetions and millions of Pakistanis like me were counting on it, the ECP explodes another bomb.
M Hashim Mar 20, 2013 06:32am
Mr Qadrir/ ECP are totally wrong and just making excuses to not allow overseas pakistanis to vote. there are many software available to do that. Its just the will that is needed. He gave Germany's example which is exaggerated and only partially true. Only a small part was not done well there, and thus was corrected without any problem then and there.
M Hashim Mar 20, 2013 06:45am
Any method can be rigged, if a party wants to.
sfomann Mar 20, 2013 06:57am
When Musharraf did a referendum/elections, we overseas Pakistani were allowed to vote through mail that we sent to the embassy. I don't see why we cannot do something similar now. The government needs to provide a way for us to cast our votes. I do not want the same corrupt politician to come to office again so my vote must be included.
Raj Mar 20, 2013 10:42am
and do you think that was not rigged... lol
dawood Mar 20, 2013 10:42am
no one cares about forgotten one, we are lost
Gerry D'Cunha Mar 20, 2013 11:43am
pakistani politicians are master mind in rigging - none of the master mind countries can catch hold of them - they have the art and skill of fraud
Shahid Mar 20, 2013 01:00pm
PTI will have an advantage over other parties if government allows overseas Pakistani's to Vote but that is not going to happen. Shame!
Gerry D'Cunha Mar 20, 2013 03:11pm
Hassan: pakistan does not need your vote,as this could make a lot of difference - keep on sending your remittances, that's all they need
Aamir Mar 20, 2013 03:18pm
That is very sad - CEC should consider this and use the electronic voting system for overseas Pakistanis.
Shabeeb Ashfaq Mar 20, 2013 04:03pm
When they want to get something done for their benefit then everything becomes feasible in a very quick time.
IRFAN UK Mar 20, 2013 04:30pm
IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW, ALL I WANT TO MAKE SURE IS THAT WE PAKISTANIS LIVING ABROAD MUST BE ALLOWED TO VOTE. The reason why so many of us are passionate about voting in Pakistan is the fact that we want to live a normal peaceful and a respectful life where there is JUSTICE for all. We can only see this through IMRAN KHAN PTI.
Naveed Mar 20, 2013 05:14pm
dont waste your time my Pakistani Brother's they all are thiefs we have fly to pakistan ans vote for Pti thats what I am going to do, Pakistan we are coming for your Pakistan zinda baad
Ahmed Mar 20, 2013 05:28pm
Why not simply register expat Pakistanis in embassies and consulate offices, and place ballot boxes there? Even third world countries do this all the time. This "e-voting" is just a red herring to deny expat Pakistanis like myself our right to vote. Just remember that expat Pakistanis are a prime resource for Pakistan - we are among the leading donors to charities in Pakistan as well as by far the most important source of foreign capital inflows. Treating us like second class citizens is not right.
Tariq Mar 20, 2013 06:26pm
Our foreign missions should be allowed to turn into poling stations where ever they are and the host country should be requested to provide security to oversee fair and free elections casting, including the vote counting by the host country as our "noble" missionaries are not trust worthy!
sfomann Mar 20, 2013 06:35pm
That is not the point here. The overseas could vote before so there should be no technical reason in not doing so now