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Pak parties oppose voting plan for expatriates

Publication Date : 28-09-2012


A plan for exercise of voting right by about 3.7 million overseas Pakistanis has hit a snag with most political parties opposing the idea in the absence of a feasible mechanism.

According to sources, representatives of a majority of mainstream parties invited by the Election Commission yesterday for a marathon consultative session on matters relating to the coming polls expressed the fear that bogus votes would be polled through postal ballots unless a well thought-out mode was evolved to enable the overseas Pakistanis to vote.

This means that the 3.7 million overseas Pakistanis on the electoral rolls will not be able to cast their votes in the general election unless they travel to their constituencies.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pakistan Muslim League-N, Pakistan People’s Party-S, Balochistan National Party- A and Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) were among the parties that warned that the proposal, if implemented without a practicable mode of voting, would open a new door for rigging.

A proposal by the Election Commission secretary for increasing the number of National Assembly seats was welcomed by almost all the parties.

Around 300 proposals for ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections were presented at the meeting, which lasted about seven hours.

The meeting, presided over by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, was attended by senior representatives of almost all the parties, the chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and officials of the commission.

Some participants said remittances sent by overseas Pakistanis played an important role in the country’s economy.

It was pointed out that allocation of reserved seats for overseas Pakistanis would require an amendment to the Constitution.

It was suggested that if such an amendment was brought, there should be a bar on overseas Pakistanis becoming president, prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister or governor of a province.

One participant said 60 countries allowed dual nationals to become members of their parliaments and it should be permitted in Pakistan, but the proposal was opposed by some others.

The parties reposed confidence in the CEC and the Election Commission, but expressed some apprehensions as well.

The law and order situation and interference of intelligence agencies in the electoral process were the key areas of concern for almost all of them.

It was pointed out that the law and order situation was precarious in Balochistan, Karachi and Fata.

The commission was urged to ensure that the elections were not only free, fair and transparent, but peaceful as well. The participants said there was a threat of the political process being sabotaged or subverted if extraordinary security measures were not taken.

The Jamhoori Watan Party threatened to boycott the elections in protest against the poor law and order situation in Balochistan, but the chief election commissioner promised that the concerns would be addressed.

A majority of the participants termed unrealistic a proposed bill providing for re-polling at polling stations where less than 10 per cent of the registered women’s votes were polled.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the PML-Q chief, said it would be an overstretched exercise. The PPP-S and the parties from Balochistan also opposed the proposed legislation. The main argument of the parties from Balochistan was that a candidate must not be punished if women did not turn up to vote because of socio-cultural barriers.

‘Don't let me fail'

Justice (retd) Ebrahim said in his concluding remarks that holding free and fair elections was the last mission of his life. “Please don’t let me fail in this mission,” a participant quoted him as saying.

The CEC regretted that political parties were not playing their due role in voters’ registration. He said it was an ideal time for voters to get any mistakes in the rolls rectified.

He said the commission would launch a campaign for voters’ education at the grassroots, but added its success would not be possible without an active role of political parties, members of the civil society and the media.

Justice Ebrahim invited written suggestions from political parties for making the electoral process more transparent.

He said the commission was working on an electronic voting machine project and expressed the hope that it would be introduced in the coming general elections.

Talking to reporters later, Justice Ebrahim said troops would be deployed at polling stations where necessary.

He said he was ready to consult anybody to ensure transparent and fair elections, including the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency.


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