Expressing its failure to extend the voting facility to overseas Pakistanis, the interim government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that multiple technical problems hampered efforts to deploy an e-voting mechanism.
Interim Minister for Information Technology Dr Sania Nishtar informed the three-member Supreme Court bench, headed by the Chief Justice, that the government was facing several difficulties in deploying an e-voting system for overseas Pakistanis in the May 11 elections and they wanted to seek the court’s guidance regarding this matter.
She explained that though National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) had successfully developed software for the e-voting, it would take at least 18 months to test the system and make it error-free.
The interim IT minister cited ‘diplomatic differences’ as another obstacle. She added that the Foreign Office had sought assistance from nine Gulf countries but only two had responded. She said now that the election commission was also short of time it would make things worse.
Nishtar also voiced her reservations for the voting day arrangements. “If the embassies are unable to handle situation on the polling day (May 11) then overseas citizens might stage protest, which would be an embarrassment for the Pakistani missions in other countries”. The minister said that Pakistan would also have to face severe criticism if there was lack of transparency.
After hearing her stance, the bench, also including Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, observed that it was the duty of the executives to come up with a solution to the problems. The bench remarked that instead of solving the issue the government had surrendered itself to the odds.
The bench also expressed annoyance over election commission’s representative, for not dealing the matter more seriously. “What you have done for the past two years and why have you wasted our time,” the chief justice questioned DG ECP Sher Afghan.
Adjourning the hearing till the next day (today), the chief justice stated they would pass an appropriate order in this matter.
Meanwhile it was decided in a meeting that took place between the representatives of NADRA and ECP that the SC would be informed in clear terms that the facility of e-voting could not be extended to the expatriates in the next elections. Interim law minister Ahmer Bilal, briefing the media after the meeting said that it had been decided in principle that the mechanism could not be put into practice for upcoming elections.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2013.