Pakistan is set to conduct historic elections on Wednesday, 25 July 2018, leading to the second democratically-elected government completing its term in the country’s history. It was estimated in 2017 that approximately eight million Pakistanis live or work abroad. The UK hosts the second largest number of overseas Pakistanis, of about 1.7 million.
With such a large number of Pakistanis abroad, the question is: can they make their vote count in the upcoming elections? The short answer is: no.
Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was of the view that any elections could not be termed free and fair unless Overseas Pakistanis were able to cast their vote. Many petitions were filed over time regarding this.
It is stated under section 94 (I) of the Elections Act, 2017: “The Commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting.” The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could not carry out any pilots.
In January 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted 16 petitions that appealed for the Overseas Pakistanis’ right to vote and the establishment of appropriate infrastructure. A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, heard the case and instructed the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to develop an adequate software within 10 weeks, and test it in a mock election in April 2018.
Recently, an image began circulating on social media which had instructions for Overseas Pakistanis on how to vote. NADRA has since clarified that no such system has been put in place for this election, and the website address given in the image does not exist.
As of now, the Supreme Court of Pakistan is yet to decide whether to grant online voting rights to Overseas Pakistanis. The hearing will take place after the elections (which are scheduled for this Wednesday, 25 July). As a consequence, Overseas Pakistanis do not have the right to vote online.
An ECP spokesperson added that a pilot project will run in the upcoming by-elections to see if the infrastructure can become fully operational for the next general elections in 2023. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s decision is pending.