LAHORE: In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on Friday permitted overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the upcoming by-polls.

A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to use i-Voting system as a pilot project to enable Pakistanis living abroad to cast their votes in the upcoming by-polls.

The bench resumed hearing of a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, seeking arrangements for eligible overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes.

During proceedings at the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry, the bench directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to coordinate with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to ensure fool-proof arrangements for the i-Voting system.

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“Electoral results of i-vote should be kept separate, presented before parliament and included in overall results,” remarked Justice Nisar.

Congratulating overseas Pakistanis, he said that their right to vote had been recognised.

He noted that the ball was now in the ECP’s court now to guarantee implementation of the court orders. The top judge also said the pilot project should be completed as per the ECP rules and operational plan.

At the outset of hearing, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob and Nadra Chairman Usman Mobin appeared before the court.

Yaqoob informed the bench that in accordance with the Election Act, rules had been framed for the purpose of i-Voting (internet voting), a system that allows voters to cast ballots from any computer connected to the internet anywhere in the world.

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He further submitted that the commission intended to hold mock polling for the purpose.

Apparently dispelling the impression that the i-voting project would be an informal exercise, the CJP emphasised: “[That this is being done on] an experimental basis does not mean that its results should be ignored.”

The chief justice directed the ECP to cooperate with Nadra and ensure proper arrangements in order to make the pilot project a success.

He observed that results obtained from I-voting would be included in the final results of the by-polls.

However, the I-voting results will also be stored separately and will be taken out from the final count in case a conflict arises, he added.

The chief justice remarked that the right to vote of overseas Pakistanis had been accepted, adding that it was now up to the ECP to implement and fulfil its duty of holding the elections.

He further remarked that the pilot project should be completed according to the ECP regulations and operational plan.

“We are grateful to the ECP and Nadra for building the pilot project,” he added.

However, he added that experimental voting did not mean that the results would be overlooked. All the results should be presented before parliament, CJP Nisar ordered.

The SC had in June put off the case relating to the grant of right of vote to 7.9 million overseas Pakistanis until after the July 25 general elections when it was informed that the idea could not be materialised due to paucity of time and need for multiple tests of the specially designed software.

A task force comprising IT experts constituted by the ECP to examine the possibility of introducing internet voting facility for overseas Pakistanis had warned earlier this week that the system is likely to be attacked by foreign governments and intelligence agencies.