By Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir.
The Elections Bill 2017 is plagued with constitutional lacunae and legal glitches. That the bill does not concede the popular demand for allowing the overseas Pakistanis’ right to vote will be widely deplored”. The Elections Bill 2017 does not take into account the more pressing issue of diaspora community’s right to voting.
Why oversees are called citizens if they could not vote for their mother homeland? It is estimated that over eight million overseas Pakistanis, which comprises about four percent of the country’s population, worldwide contribute five percent to Pakistan’s GDP through remittances annually. However, their political aspirations have never been addressed constitutionally. Extraterritorial voting can connect them to Pakistan– for political, cultural and social reasons as they are cultural workers and soft image builders abroad.
Taking stock of ground realities, around 25 countries, including India, Bangladesh, Austria, Canada, Germany and Norway cater to their diaspora community’s voting needs. Pragmatically, this process could be materialized through return voting, in-person polling station, embassy voting, internet voting. But, in Pakistan’s case, postal voting seems to be the best option because of its feasible, manageable financial costs, logistics and hence relatively more reliable, transparent and secure practice. Unfortunately, the problem stems from lack of political will and the diplomatic conduct of the host countries, especially the Arab monarchies given the fact that they don’t allow it for their own citizens at home.
In today’s globalized world, Pakistan needs to devise a meaningful National Diaspora Policy and create Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis who is responsible for oversees community affairs. The ECP, NADRA, ministries of interior, foreign affairs, Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES-Pakistan) and UNDP-Pakistan should develop strategies for registration of overseas Pakistanis as voters, and the procedure of casting vote through postal ballot system or an electronic voting system.
Approximately six million overseas Pakistanis are in possession of National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis. Interestingly, NADRA has secured almost 90 per cent fingerprints which can be useful for developing a specialized website for electoral roll of overseas voters as per their constituencies and subsequent use of EVMs both domestically and globally. It’s time the mantra of providing logistics and ensuring credibility had better do away with forthwith as they are used for political maneuvering and delaying tactics.
Apart from this, says I.A.Rehman, the anti-democratic Articles 62 and 63 figure prominently in the bill. Also left out is any reference to the need to dispense with the reservation of seats for technocrats as all parties like to recruit retired bureaucrats/military officers and there is absolutely no justification for including ulema in this privileged category; they have their own outfits to get themselves elected. The peasants and labour have a far more legitimate claim to reservation of seats than any other class or group, but they have no friends among the lawmakers.
Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir is a freelance writer,human rights activist, aspirant to CSS and having specialization in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.