Giving voting right to expats arduous task, SC told
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday that extending voting rights to overseas Pakistanis was an arduous task because the number of such people was approximately eight million.
A four-judge bench which had taken up a petition of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan seeking voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad was informed that certain countries, including the United States and Britain, allowed dual nationality.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry also observed that the idea of granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis was good but appeared difficult in practical terms. But, he said, the court would have to examine pros and cons to arrive at certain modalities to ward off the possibility of malpractices involved in the exercise.
The court asked the Election Commission to submit its reply on the issue by February 6.
Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq did not attend the proceedings because he was busy at the judicial commission investigating the memo scandal.
Advocate Hamid Khan, the counsel for Imran Khan, argued that the right to vote was protected under Article 17(1) of the Constitution and since people living outside the country were Pakistanis, they should get the right to choose their representatives and necessary safeguards like allocating specific places for casting votes must be in place.
The court considered an option of allowing postal ballot to people living abroad.
But ECP Joint Secretary Sher Afgan said the facility of postal ballot was very limited even in developed countries. Moreover, the exercise would cost the commission $200 for a single overseas vote, compared to Rs10 within the country.
Sher Afgan said the commission had never received any request from overseas Pakistanis for postal ballot, adding that such facility was there, to a limited extent, for government employees who were abroad on certain assignments. He said there were no procedural laws to support this exercise and only parliament could make legislation in this regard.
Advocate Afnan Kundi, representing Nadra, informed the court that the authority had issued 4.4 million national identity cards (Nicop) to overseas Pakistanis (3.7 million men and 612,830 women) living in 20 countries — over 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, 1.3 million in the UAE, 829,080 in the UK, 197,540 in the US, 19,465 in Germany and 150,020 in Canada.
The figures do not include people who have gone abroad from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The foreign affairs ministry has already submitted its reply and said it had no objection if voting rights were extended to Pakistanis living abroad.