Pak expats in UAE demand voting rights

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Dubai, Jan 8: Expatriate Pakistanis in the UAE have demanded voting rights to participate in the upcoming February 18 parliamentary elections in Pakistan.

The only occasion when overseas Pakistanis got to exercise their franchise was in the 2002 referendum when President Pervez Musharraf was seeking a five-year extension of his presidency. However, representatives of the Pakistan government in the UAE say that ''overseas polling is a policy decision, which has to be taken by the government alone,'' Khaleej Times reported.

The parliamentary elections in Pakistan, which were to be held today (January 8), had been extended to February 18 following the assassination of Pakistan People"s Party leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007.

There are over 750,000 Pakistani nationals residing in the UAE alone, and popular sentiments among them is for particapation in the electoral process of their country.

Most expats feel their exclusion would deprive Pakistan of a major chunk of the votes.

''We know that the poll date still remains shaky, but we want to be included in the system because we think that our vote will make a huge difference,'' the paper quoted Muhammed Akram, a sales executive, as saying.

''Recently, overseas nationals of countries like the Philippines and Australia had cast their ballots in their national polls. If some countries can make arrangements for overseas voting, then I think we make up a majority in several overseas countries, especially in the Gulf region,'' a media executive Anees Khan said.

''The modalities of arrangements for organising the elections here can be decided by the government but we should not be denied our voting rights,'' a businessman Aftab Khan said.

''Overseas Pakistanis should be a part of this process as we are a major voice of the country and provide valuable foreign exchange by our remittances,'' he added.

''The Pakistan government considers us as mere 'revenue generators','' a Pakistan national Rasheed Khan remarked.

''Why are we not included in major decisions such as choosing our own government?'', he asked.

Meanwhile the Consul General of Pakistan in Dubai Abdul Hameed while trying to explain the complexities of holding the overseas electoral process remarked, '' This is a policy decision which has to be taken by the Pakistan government. On the other hand, the host government authorities should also approve it.''


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