Supreme Court Wants Voting Rights Extended to Overseas Pakistanis in By-Polls

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The same bench expressed its reservation over the practice of contesting elections from more than one constituency

AUG 10, 2018: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Election Commission of Pakistan to extend voting rights to millions of overseas Pakistanis in upcoming by-polls through e-voting process.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday had taken up a set of petitions moved by Imran Khan — the PM-in-waiting and PTI chairman — and a group of citizens, in which the applicants had taken the plea that denial of right to participate in the democratic process by overseas Pakistanis would mean a refusal by the government to carry out its constitutional obligation.

The bench also ordered the ECP to consider testing specially designed software during the by-elections to be held on the seats vacated by winners of multiple constituencies for the grant of right of vote to 9.5 million overseas Pakistanis.

The court made it clear that it was a command of the apex court to grant the facility of vote to the overseas Pakistanis because it was also their constitutional right. Therefore, it was the duty of the commission to implement the same.

The court also emphasized the need for maintaining complete secrecy of the e-voting and like postal ballots should be counted toward the end of the vote counting process.

The ECP secretary explained that by-elections were expected to be held from Oct 15 to 20 during which a few constituencies would be selected to experiment and test the newly designed software for e-voting also. But the court ordered the commission to choose at least 50 constituencies during the by-elections in which no technical issues of the Result Transmission System (RTS) and the e-voting of overseas Pakistanis should arise.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was also ordered by the apex court to remove deficiencies and bottlenecks from the RTS software.

The use of electronic system in the conduct of elections cannot be discouraged, but a reliable alternative system should be in place to be switched to instantly in case of failure of any system, said the bench headed by the Chief Justice.

The same bench expressed its reservation over the practice of contesting elections from more than one constituency.

The ECP secretary said the commission had floated a suggestion to ban contesting elections from more than two constituencies and to recover all the election expenses from the candidate for vacating the seat, but parliament did not approve it.

The court observed that parliament was supreme, but the expense for contesting elections on multiple constituencies should be recovered from candidates.

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