Attorney General Irfan Qadir has informed the Supreme Court that it would not be possible to make arrangements for overseas Pakistanis to vote in the general elections.
“After holding a meeting with representatives from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the ministry of law and justice and the petitioner, I have reasons to believe that it will not be possible to ensure the those Pakistanis living abroad can cast their votes in the general elections of 2013,” said Qadir on Monday.
Responding to Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Qadir said that the right to vote was an inalienable right of overseas Pakistanis and that they would continue working towards a solution. Justice Saeed had earlier noted that the right to cast a ballot could not be denied to such a large a number of Pakistanis.
As an example, the attorney general quoted that over 1.5 million Pakistanis resided in Saudi Arabia alone. Making election arrangements for them would require the preparation of 1,000 ballot papers per constituency, setting up 300 to 400 polling booths in Saudi Arabia, and deputing three to four members of the ECP at each booth.
“Why not bring the issue to the notice of sitting parliamentarians, as an ex-officio member of the legislature?” Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry inquired.
The attorney general commented that the court should send a request to Parliament to initiate a debate. To this the chief justice remarked that the government should do this on its own because the members of the National Assembly had more knowledge and wisdom concerning matters related to the elections.
The chief justice remarked that the proposal of the petitioner, Chaudhry Nasir Iqbal, which calls for amendments in the Peoples Representations Act, should be taken to parliament for a larger debate on workable solutions.
Meanwhile, Justice Saeed observed that whatever steps would be taken to ensure voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, the integrity and transparency of the election process should not be compromised.
A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Saeed adjourned the hearing till September 12, on the request of the attorney general. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan and the petitioner had gone to court as they wanted the ECP to make it possible for oversees Pakistanis to vote.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.