The Supreme Court put the Election Commission on notice Friday that it could devise any mechanism to allow overseas Pakistanis to vote in the general elections as it was empowered to do so.
A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed made the observation while hearing identical petitions seeking voting rights for overseas Pakistanis.
Representing the poll body, Advocate Munir Ahmed Paracha argued that fresh legislation was required to devise a workable mechanism enabling Pakistanis living abroad to cast their ballots.
“The right of vote is not denied to Pakistanis living abroad and under the election laws, the ECP can address the issue as it is the relevant body authorised to hold the elections,” observed Justice Saeed.
Advocate Paracha said that under the current law, polling stations were established according to the strength in numbers of voters in relevant constituencies, as there are around 278 constituencies for the National Assembly.
The difficulty of delivering ballot papers to the roughly 7.5 million overseas Pakistanis was also raised when Chief Justice Chaudhry inquired about a meeting that was to be held by Attorney General of Pakistan Irfan Qadir with representatives of the ECP, National Database and Registration Authority, ministry of oversees Pakistanis and secretary law and justice division.
Advocate Paracha replied that the meeting took place last week, but the details were not provided.
Furthermore, the apex court asked Advocate Paracha whether any considerations and deliberations were being made to make voting mandatory. The ECP lawyer said that though there were no plans on imposing penalties on those who did not vote, some ideas were floated to create incentives for those who exercised their right.
The bench directed AG Qadir to submit a brief on the minutes of the meeting and adjourned the hearing till February 27.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2013.