ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the federal government to devise a mechanism for overseas Pakistanis to exercise their ‘right of vote’, ordering Ministry of Overseas Pakistani and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for overseas Pakistani votes registration before the upcoming general elections.
The AG informed the court that a draft bill for the grant of voting right to the overseas Pakistani is ready and will be moved before the National Assembly any time soon adding the overseas Pakistani ministry had been engaged in devising voting procedures for the expatriates.
The bench, however, was informed that the complete voting list of the entire Pakistanis along with ballot papers of 272 constituencies had to be dispatched to each Pakistani mission to be converted into polling stations. This list will also have to be guarded for secrecy.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry heard the matter relating to permission to overseas Pakistanis to cast vote and directed Nadra to ensure delivery of National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) before the elections.
The court suggested that the government convert all the Pakistani missions in different cities of the world as polling stations to facilitate the expatriates living there to caste their votes in favour of their preferred candidates contesting elections in Pakistan. The ECP, Ministries of Interior and Overseas Pakistanis were ordered to hold a meeting and devise mechanism in this regard and submit its outcome by February 22.
Munir A. Piracha, the counsel for ECP, categorically informed the bench that the Commission has no objection over overseas Pakistani’ right of vote. He told the bench that a total of four millions overseas Pakistanis vote were registered in various countries. Upon that the Chief Justice that registration of others should also be ensured because there were more than 7.5 million Pakistanis abroad.
The Chief Justice observed that if Pakistanis residing abroad could come to homeland for Basant celebration then they should also come to cast their vote in the election. The CJP suggested that ballot papers could be provided to Pakistani foreign missions after gathering data of the registered voters.
The Chief Justice also deplored that majority of the expatriates had no idea whether their votes have been registered or not.
He further said that overseas Pakistani voters can send their sealed ballot papers to the ECP, which should dispatch the same to the concerned Returning Officer before general elections in order to avoid any foul play or allegation.
Later, hearing of the case was adjourned till February 22.
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 Paksitanis (NICOP) in 20 different countries like over 1.5 million people living in Saudi Arabia have been registered with Nadra, 1.3 million in UAE, 829,080 in UK, 197,540 in US, 19,465 in Germany and 150,020 in Canada.
The figure of 4.4 million does not include the people who have migrated and gone abroad from AJK and Gilgit Baltistan. Out of 4.4 million registered NICOP, 3.7 million are men and 612,830 are women living abroad.