ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed exercising right of vote in a right manner could change the destiny of the country.

Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, a member of the bench, hearing Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan’s petition on bogus votes, said the court was rendering its responsibilities for ensuring free, fair and transparent elections in the country. He said: “Exercising right of vote in a right manner could change the destiny of the country.”

The court directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to review the modalities whether overseas Pakistanis could exercise right of vote in the election, analyse the matter in lieu of the experience of other countries and submit report by February 6. The court directed the ECP to look into the matter while going through the experience of other countries over the matter and submit a comprehensive report till next date of hearing.

Joint Secretary (Elections) ECP Syed Sher Afgan appearing on notice, told the court that problems were being faced while giving the right of vote to the overseas Pakistanis as it was very costly. He said registering a voter within the country costs $2, while registration of one vote of an overseas Pakistani would cost $30. The chief justice however observed that exercising right of vote was the fundamental right of every eligible individual. He said under Article 219 of the Constitution, the ECP was bound to update electoral rolls every year.

He said the idea for providing an opportunity to the overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right of vote was good, however, it would have to see that the entire election process should not be affected due to this matter. He said malafide practice must be avoided, ensuring the matter in most transparent manner.

ECP’s joint secretary stated that presently the right of postal ballot was only given to the public servants who, during the time of elections, used to render their duties outside their constituencies.

The court expressed satisfaction over the reply submitted by the Foreign Office on the issue. Hamid Khan, counsel for Imran Khan, and Afnan Karim Kundi, counsel for National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) also appeared before the court. To a court query, Hamid Khan stated that there were eight million overseas Pakistanis.

Meanwhile, the court directed the ECP to analyse the matter in lieu of the experience of other countries and submit report before it by February 6.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed that holding free, fair, and transparent elections in accordance with law was a constitutional mandate while protection of a fundamental right had been vested with the apex court.

“You have to complete the exercise without being influenced from outside. Courts orders cannot be flouted in this manner,” he added.

The Chief Justice asked Hamid Khan, counsel for Imran Khan, whether casting votes was a fundamental right, to which he replied that Article 17, ensured right to association and thus a fundamental right.

He also told the counsel that by providing such facility to expatriates, they had to consider prospects of malpractices.

Hamid Khan contended that about 8 million Pakistani nationals were living abroad and they deserved to exercise their right of franchise.

He said that their participation in the process could have viable impacts upon the elections results and quoted a case of Shamon Parez and Benjamin Netanyahu regarding election results.

To bench’s query, Afnan Kundi, counsel for Nadra apprised that they had issued National Identity Cards to 3.688 million Pakistani expatriates excluding residents of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The CJ observed that it would be difficult to supervise everything minutely. He advised the counsel for petitioner to go through the issue thoroughly.

Sher Afgan further told that the issue had been alive for the last 30 years and even it was taken up to cabinet meeting during Nawaz Sharif’s government but it was dropped later on.

The bench further adjourned hearing till February 6 and directed the respondents and petitioners to exchange their documents.

The bench also allowed counsel for ministry of Inter Provincial Coordination to file reply.

The ministry had apprised the bench that they had no relation with the issue.