The right to vote for overseas Pakistanis may be trumped by the fact that the process is an expensive one, Supreme Court proceedings indicated on Tuesday.
A petition allowing overseas Pakistani involvement in the voting process had been filed earlier by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan.
“Let the overseas Pakistanis vote too,” Khan prayed to court, through his counsel Hamid Khan. Afnan Karim Kundi, counsel for the National Database and Registration Authority, (NADRA) also appeared before the court.
Joint Secretary (Elections) of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Syed Sher Afgan, was present as well, and told the court that registering a voter in Pakistan costs two dollars – but the same exercise abroad, for listing overseas Pakistanis, would cost $30.
He added that eight million Pakistani nationals live in different countries around the world; and bringing them all on board would be ‘a testing task’. As of now, Afgan said, the right of postal ballot was only available to public servants, who were on duty abroad at the time of polling.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry directed the ECP to “learn from the experience of other countries” and submit an analytical report on the same on February 6. Heading a four-judge bench, the chief justice also asked the ECP to work out ‘modalities’ to see if overseas Pakistanis could vote in the upcoming elections.
He added that the idea for providing an opportunity to overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right of vote was persuasive, but would have to be judged against the backdrop of ensuring the election in toto (altogether).
The apex court also expressed satisfaction over the reply submitted by the Foreign Office over the matter. Justice Khilji Arif Hussain observed that the court was rendering its responsibilities for ensuring free, fair and transparent elections in the country. “Exercising the right of vote in a proper manner could change the destiny of the country,” he remarked.
There have recently been stark differences of opinion between the Supreme Court and ECP officials on the timeframe within which electoral rolls must be purged of fake votes and over the exclusion of new voters in the electoral rolls. The court has already issued a clarification stating that the move was taken keeping in view the “wide-scale discrepancies in the existing electoral rolls” and was in line with existing laws.
The chief justice said that the right to vote was one of the fundamental rights of every eligible individual. He said under Article 219 of the constitution, the ECP was bound to update electoral rolls every year.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.