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More time needed: Overseas vote

April 01, 2013

OVERSEAS Pakistanis should be able to vote in Pakistani elections, but as important as giving them that facility is making sure that it runs smoothly and is secure. Understandably, officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan have said that trying to put overseas voting in place in time for the upcoming elections, as the Supreme Court had suggested, would be risky. First, there are the basic challenges: determining who should be able to vote and how they will vote, setting up the infrastructure required at home and abroad, and ensuring that the process is a secure one in which votes aren’t lost, misdirected or tampered with. This stage also includes settling the fundamental question of whether overseas voters will constitute a separate constituency or vote from the last (or another) constituency they lived in while in Pakistan.

Then there are problems specific to the Pakistani expatriate community and electoral system. The high number of emigrants from certain areas means they have the ability to change election outcomes in those constituencies, which increases the costs of any manipulation or lapses. Also, the country’s electoral system is not a presidential one with a couple of candidates contesting elections. Numerous candidates run for each of hundreds of constituencies, which means an incredible volume of paperwork to be shared with foreign missions unless a system is worked out in which overseas voters form a single constituency or are registered for their home constituency ahead of time. Voting over the internet, the ECP has argued, would be too risky in terms of information security. Determining what the best mechanism is and putting it in place cannot be done in a few weeks. Overseas Pakistanis deserve to be able to vote. But they also deserve a user-friendly and secure system, even if that means waiting till the next elections.