July 26, Islamabad: While all eyes are on who will have the final laugh in the July 25 general elections in Pakistan, not many debated about one of the biggest drawbacks that this election has seen and that is disallowing the Pakistani nationals living abroad from casting their ballots in this crucial election.
Despite Pakistan having a sizeable diaspora, the country's election commission and Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority) had told a parliamentary committee in November 2015 that voting arrangements could not be made for Pakistani nationals living abroad for this year's election, Dawn had reported. The Nadra officials had raised questions over the security of its data, if provided for online and offline verifications of voters during polling.
The election panel also told the committee that the mock exercise it had conducted for voting by overseas Pakistanis had failed because of technical and legal factors. It also told the panel that it had approached the UN Development Programme to prepare a feasibility report on providing voting rights to Pakistanis who are settled abroad.
More than two and half years since then, Pakistan still could not put into place a system which would have allowed its nationals living abroad to cast their ballots.
A week ahead of the elections, a Geo TV report cited the Nadra officials as saying that online voting arrangements for Pakistanis could be experimented in bypolls and that if they wanted to cast ballots for this election, they would have to go to Pakistan. They also said that even for those who come to Pakistan to cast their ballots, they have to be registered voters in the country.
Kamran Rehmat, a senior Pakistani journalist, slammed the state of affairs.
In a social media post, he said: "The biggest continuing injustice in the electoral exercise taking place tomorrow hasn't even been mentioned in the debate all along: the disenfranchised overseas Pakistani voter. Spread across the globe in their millions, they have still not been afforded an opportunity to cast their ballot. And to think they are the ones who keep the country afloat with their remittances.
All sorts of lame bureaucratic/technical excuses have been advanced whenever the subject has been broached in the past, but each of the last two governments, PML-N and PPP, did not resolve the issue over fears that it might give PTI a massive advantage. However, the PTI itself did not make any concrete push for it after the-then CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry helped the PML-N scupper the idea before the 2013 general election in the hope of being rewarded for supporting his restoration."