Overseas Pakistanis were thrown another lifeline in terms of their role in the political process of the country.
While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may not think it is feasible, the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday that overseas Pakistanis should enjoy voting rights in the next general elections.
Hearing a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, a two-judge bench of the apex court said that a transparent mechanism should be finalised in this regard by the ECP in consultation with the government. The process, it was observed, should mirror the practice that is exercised in around 25 to 30 countries across the globe.
PTI’s counsel Hamid Khan could not appear today before the court; however, on the request of one of his assistants Rana Waqar, the court adjourned the case till November 7.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry remarked that Pakistanis living abroad should be provided with the option of postal balloting.
Earlier, the ECP was considering giving voting rights to more than 4 million Pakistanis who are settled in different countries around the world. However, in October, the commission decided against this move, saying it would be an impossible task to provide voting facilities to so many people abroad – and manage to do so in a transparent and uncontroversial manner.
While most political parties are supportive of the idea, in a meeting with the ECP a number of representatives expressed apprehensions regarding the transparency of the process that the ECP was proposing. They had said that the potential for controversy would just add to the usual political storms that tend to surface after general elections. Overseas votes would play a massive factor in the outcome of elections, given that there are over 4 million potential voters through this process.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice Chaudhry and Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, also heard a petition filed by Jammat-e-Islami on Tuesday. The petition claimed that the ECP excluded the names of people from Swat who are settled in Karachi for the last 35 years from the voter lists and had, instead, registered their votes in Swat.
The court told the counsel for JI to approach the ECP regarding the matter. There is a provision in the ECP which allows one to approach the commission for registration of their vote on a temporary residential address, the court said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2012.