ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah Wednesday remarked that apparently, the amendments regarding voting rights to expats introduced by the PTI government did not seem to be in line with the Supreme Court’s verdict.

He also observed that none of the amendments made to the Elections Act, 2017 by the incumbent coalition government deprived overseas Pakistanis of the right to vote. The IHC Chief Justice made the observation while hearing a petition filed against the passage of the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 which disallows overseas Pakistanis from voting electronically. The petition was filed by Dawood Ghazanavi and dual national Atif Iqbal Khan through Arif Chaudhary Advocate. In the petition, they cited the federation of Pakistan through the secretary of Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) as respondents. It was May 26 when the National Assembly passed a bill namely Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 which reversed the election laws introduced by the previous Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government regarding the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and i-voting for overseas Pakistanis. During the hearing, Justice Athar remarked that the amendments, both new and the earlier, to the law were the same in nature and the only difference is that more explanation has been given in the new amendments. He added that both the amendments were not seeking to eliminate the voting right of the overseas Pakistanis.

The counsel Arif informed the court that this thing had been going on for the last 30 years and no one could deny right to vote to the overseas Pakistanis. The judge asked the lawyer that in which constituencies, the overseas Pakistani would cast their votes. The lawyer said that all the institutions came to the Supreme Court and assured it of their willingness to work on it and after their assurance the apex court had ordered them to act upon it. He further said that the amendments which were incorporated during the previous government, were completely fulfilling the SC order.

| Islamabad High Court seeks more arguments on maintainability of petition

Court says election law amendments by incumbent govt do not deprive overseas Pakistanis of right to vote

Then, the court asked that how many Pakistanis were residing abroad. The lawyer replied that 0.9 million Pakistanis were living abroad. Later, the IHC Chief Justice observed that apparently it looked like the amendments made to the law by the previous government were not in accordance with the SC decision and the new amendments do not seem to be abolishing the voting right of the overseas Pakistanis.

In their petition, the petitioners said that the main grievance was the amendment in Section 94 in the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022. They adopted the stance that despite the fact that the law mandated the ECP to take some decisive acts to enable overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote, no action in this regard had been taken by the respondent. They said that the former PTI government had made an amendment in sub-section (1) of Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 and the present regime, which was vociferously opposing the fundamental right of vote of overseas Pakistanis at all levels, also moved an amendment in Section 94. The petitioners contended that new amendment has reversed not only the enactment made to enforce the fundamental rights of the petitioners but has also set aside/reversed the judgment of Supreme Court of Pakistan. They argued that under Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP is legally bound to devise a mechanism to enforce the fundamental right of vote of overseas Pakistanis, which had been virtually taken away under the guise of said amendment act.

They further argued that the impugned amendment was not only violative of their fundamental rights but was also inconsistent with the statute as well as the judgment of the apex court which was given effect through an act of parliament by the previous regime. The petition said that the previous government ensured the enforcement of the fundamental right to vote for overseas Pakistanis through legislative enactment but the same had been taken away by the present regime with ulterior motives. It added that the government’s mala fide intent could be gauged from how the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022 was passed within a day without any debate or discussion in parliament. It termed the Section 3 of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022 unconstitutional, illegal and in violation of Article 17 of the Constitution. It requested the court to strike down the amendment and to suspend operation in the meanwhile. Later, the court sought more arguments on the maintainability of the petition and deferred the hearing till June 3 for further proceedings.