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Overseas Pakistanis’ vote: ECP, Nadra for caution

Published Mar 30, 2013 03:01am

Elections_ballotboxes_670
— File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Senior officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) believe that a decision in haste on the evolution of a mechanism that would enable overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the coming general elections would open a room for manipulation of results in many constituencies.

Talking to Dawn, the officials said they were ready to implement orders of the Supreme Court, but admitted that they were facing serious problems in finding ways to make the process transparent.

A bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had directed the secretaries of law and justice, information technology, foreign affairs, ministry of oversees Pakistanis and the ECP as well as the chairman of Nadra to make coordinated efforts for devising a mechanism which would enable oversees Pakistanis to cast their votes in the elections.

The officials concerned held a meeting at the Nadra headquarters on Friday to work out measures in line with the court’s directive. Various options were weighed, but none of them found to be practicable.

Technical experts in the ECP and the Nadra pointed out that a minor error could sabotage the whole electoral exercise since none of the proposed mechanisms had been tested so far.

“Options like putting database on website compromise privacy and are prone to hacking and misuse. There are legal and diplomatic hitches as well. We will have very limited time available to complete the exercise if the court gives a final directive,” an official said. He said two-thirds of the expatriates were in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

According to data, out of the 4.5 million overseas Pakistan enrolled in voters’ lists, 1.7m live in Saudi Arabia, 1.3m in the UAE, 277,131 in Oman, 131,589 in Kuwait and 80,166 in Bahrain.

He said since most of these countries did not allow political activities, the assembly of Pakistanis in large number at diplomatic missions of Pakistan was out of question and might invite troubles.

There are 367,988 registered Pakistani voters in the UK, 131,589 in the USA, 90,148 in Canada, 56,495 in Greece, 55,851 in Malaysia, 39,618 in Spain, 23,585 in France and 15,728 in Australia.

Given the concentration of overseas Pakistanis from some specific areas of Pakistan, their votes can have a significant impact on some of their native constituencies if the right is exercised in a transparent manner. However, a misuse could seriously be damaging, an official warned.

The Nadra’s IT experts in their report submitted before the Supreme Court say the option of ‘internet voting’ will bring electoral rolls over web, exposing them to dangers of hacking which cannot be mitigated within the short time given for polling. Besides, internet voting cannot have a secure ‘identity confirmation’ and it will also compromise the privacy of voters.

The report says such confirmation can only be ensured through biometric verification. In the absence of identity confirmation, the possibility of casting vote against someone else’s identity cannot be ruled out.

The other proposed option discussed was voice signature. There is no database available in the country where voice signatures are tagged with national identity cards issued to overseas Pakistanis.