ISLAMABAD, April 11: With the Supreme Court pushing the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to grant voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Thursday called for speeding up the process so that millions of Pakistanis settled abroad could vote in the general elections.

PTI chief Imran Khan in a statement said it was a matter of great concern that needed special intervention by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim. He stated this after meeting a 30-member delegation comprising eminent Pakistanis settled abroad.

The PTI chairman was quoted as saying that “unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles are being erected as an excuse just to deny the overseas Pakistanis of their right and this has become a cause of grave concern for his party”. Mr Khan further said he could not comprehend as to why the options of Nadra's e-voting software and postal ballot were being opposed.

The overseas Pakistanis were an asset for the country and denying them the right to vote was a grave injustice. It was the PTI that had filed a petition with the Supreme Court for giving the right of vote to the overseas Pakistan and after the decision of the apex court every effort should have been made to make it possible, the PTI chief asserted.

He said it was a fact that the Pakistanis living in other countries were sending home billions of dollars every year which was a major source of our running expenditure. But, unfortunately, the government institutions have been denying them their basic right for which the overseas Pakistanis are feeling detached.

The PTI chief said both the chief election commissioner and the chief justice of Pakistan should take measures to remove any hurdles in the way of the right to vote to the Pakistanis living abroad.

“Our Pakistani brothers and sisters settled abroad need to be brought into the mainstream. The refusal of right to vote to them has made them second class citizens. The CEC must act to ensure the right to vote for the overseas Pakistanis,” Khan added.

Although the ECP on Thursday agreed before the SC to take necessary steps on a fast track basis to ensure that overseas Pakistani will be able to cast their votes on May 11, in a report submitted to the apex court on Monday it had expressed its inability to complete the process within 30 days.

One of the major hurdles was the permission from their countries of residence. For example, the ECP has informed the court that through foreign ministry a letter for the purpose had been written to countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, US and UK, where a considerable number of Pakistanis had acquired citizenship.

Talking to Dawn, a government official said many countries, especially in the Middle East which were not used to elections, would be highly sceptical to such an exercise.

Out of the total 4.5 million overseas Pakistanis, 3.5 million reside in the Middle Eastern countries of which 2.9 million are in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. To cast vote, a Pakistani living abroad must be in the possession of a machine readable passport and the national identity card for overseas Pakistanis (Nicop). Although one million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia carry Nicop, their manual passports are with the Kafeels due which they may not be able to cast their votes.

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