The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on Wednesday said that it would table a private member bill in the parliament for giving right of vote to overseas Pakistanis.
“The overseas Pakistanis are 4 to 5 per cent of the total population. They contribute $12 to $13 billion precious foreign exchange to the national kitty every year. They should have the right to vote,” Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Dr. Farooq Sattar stated.
The news was appreciated by the overseas Pakistanis who have been hopeful that something in this regard would be done before the upcoming general elections so that they would be able to exercise their right to vote.
Earlier this week, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had also suggested that the Pakistanis living abroad should be given the right to vote. He had said that 24 to 25 countries had granted the right to their citizens living abroad through a system of postal ballots.
Although the Election Commission of Pakistan has been at all a loss to devise a system as yet, the Chief Justice expressed hope that modalities would soon be evolved to let the Pakistanis living abroad take part in the general election.
Do you think this will be possible in time for the upcoming elections? In your opinion, how should the Election Commission go about this? Earlier in January, the ECP had told the court that the task of granting voting right to overseas Pakistanis seemed tough because they numbered eight million and lived in different countries.
An official from the Election Commission had pointed out that there was a ban on political activity in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries where most of the eligible Overseas Pakistani voters reside. He said there were 1.7 million Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and 1.2 million in the United Arab Emirates. It was also noted that the deployment of staff in the Pakistani missions abroad would be a problem here.
Another issue that came about was regarding the proposal for postal ballots. Officials claimed that the electoral process takes around 45 days to complete and only 15-20 days would remain after the publication of final list of candidates – a time too short for the process involving postal ballots. He said it was also not feasible to stretch the timeline to facilitate the overseas Pakistanis.
Given all these obstacles in the way of developing a system to accommodate the overseas Pakistani voters, what do you suggest the Election Commission should do? Should their be any hopes regarding MQM’s private member bill?
Looking at the experience of other countries, is there any relevant model Pakistan could follow in this regard?