SC directs steps to allow overseas Pakistanis voting right
15 February, 2013
ISLAMABAD: A day after rejecting Tahirul Qadri's petition for the reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan for being holder of dual nationality and raising harsh questions over his allegiance, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave several proposals to ensure voting rights to the overseas Pakistanis in the upcoming general elections.
Focusing on this issue after March 2012, the court has suggested immediate holding of a meeting between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), ministries of the interior and overseas Pakistanis to devise a mechanism to ensure voting rights to the Pakistani expatriates. It has directed that a report on the outcome of the meeting be submitted to it by February 22.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has also suggested the government convert all the Pakistani missions in different cities of the world into polling stations to facilitate the expatriates living there to cast their votes. The chief justice observed that if Pakistanis residing abroad could come to their homeland for Basant celebrations, they should also come to cast their votes in the general elections.
The bench, however, was informed that the complete voting list of the entire country along with ballot papers of 272 constituencies would have to be dispatched to each Pakistani mission abroad before they are converted into polling stations. The list will also have to be guarded jealously for secrecy. The ECP will also consider early enrolment of all the voters living abroad for the last many years, who will submit their sealed ballot paper to the missions abroad on the day the elections are held.
Both National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the ministries of overseas Pakistanis and interior must extend all possible assistance to the ECP, the court said, adding speeding up of the issuance of NICOP (National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis) to the expatriates who still do not have this card. The court noted that no legislation was required to allow the overseas Pakistanis vote in the elections, but if needed the task would be completed with the assistance of Attorney General Irfan Qadir, preferably before the general elections.
An appropriate number of ballot papers are needed to be sent to the missions in advance after ascertaining the exact number of voters in a given area. The ECP will dispatch the ballot papers to the returning officers concerned to be nominated or appointed. Both the ministries of foreign affairs and interior will lend support and assistance to the ECP in this regard. Earlier, during one of the hearings the Supreme Court was told by NADRA that the authority had issued 4.4 million national identity cards to overseas Pakistanis in 20 different countries.
On Thursday, the attorney general informed the court that a draft bill for the grant of voting right to the overseas Pakistani is ready and will be moved in the National Assembly any time soon, adding that the Overseas Pakistanis Ministry had been engaged in devising voting procedures for the expatriates.