Voting concerns for overseas Pakistanis

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan with the help of National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) is likely to devise electronic voting mechanism for the 4.5 million overseas Pakistanis but more than 80 percent of Pakistanis living abroad are likely to be disenfranchised mainly because they live in Middle East countries which do not allow assembly of people even in and near their embassies.

According to media sources, some 4339728 Pakistanis living in fifteen countries abroad and possess National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) have been registered in the electoral rolls. The data shows that ECP has registered 1.681 million Pakistanis living Saudi Arabia; 1.309 million in United Arab Emirates; 367988 in United Kingdom; 277131 in Oman; 131589 in United States; 93345 in Kuwait; 90148 in Canada; 80166 in Bahrain; 71874 in Qatar; 56495 in Greece; 55851 in Italy; 55478 in Malaysia; 39618 in Spain; 23585 in France and 15728 in Australia.

Out of these 4339728 overseas Pakistanis, some 3513248 have been registered in Middle East where the natives are not allowed to gather in large number let alone be the expatriates.

Well-placed sources in ECP said that leaving the Arab countries aside for a moment, if fifty percent of the voters registered in United States come out to vote on the polling day then it would be huge problem for the ECP to handle over 65000 voters in limited polling stations, which can only be established in embassies and consulates.

The Supreme Court on the other hand is pressing the ECP to devise mechanism for voting of overseas Pakistanis since 2011 but the ECP has been sitting on the directives of the court. Now, at the eleventh hour, all seem to be in a hurry to please the apex court, and on Monday, Nadra would present its software to the ECP which would facilitate the overseas voters in casting their votes, however, it is yet to be known that how effective this software turns out to be in the Middle East countries. It merits mentioning here that besides sanctions by the Middle East countries over right to assembly, the Pakistanis living there are not that educated that they could use specific software of Nadra to cast their vote electronically.

Nadra has also opposed the options presented in the Supreme Court regarding internet voting and using voice signatures. According to the submission of Nadra in the apex court, internet voting, not only will expose Nadra’s data to the hackers and outer world but also lacks identity confirmation of a voter. The suggestion of biometric verification through voice signature has also been rejected saying that in short span of time such things cannot be applied in Pakistan.

Chairman Nadra, Tariq Malik, when contacted, said that the proposal of biometric verification through voice signature is pregnant with business idea as some companies want to make handsome monies in the garb of e-voting system for overseas Pakistanis. Regarding the mechanism development, Tariq Malik said that Nadra was ready to take the challenge and the software would be ready soon. When asked about the majority voters being in Middle East where it would be difficult to carry out such exercise, the chairman Nadra said that first the ECP has to get some legislation and then it would be the job of Foreign Ministry to facilitate the process by contacting the concerned government.

The Supreme Court has already directed the commission to remove all bottlenecks and ensure that overseas Pakistanis vote in the forthcoming elections.

The ECP’s view in the court was that it will try its best to get overseas Pakistanis their voting right but it was impossible to provide them voting facility in the forthcoming polls because it needed legislation, computer software and signing of Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with the foreign countries. The court held that the petition regarding granting voting right to overseas Pakistanis was pending since 2011, but no progress was made.