ISLAMABAD - In order to grant the right of votes to overseas Pakistanis, the Election Commission of Pakistan has proposed the rules. According to Secretary ECP Babar Yaqoob Fateh, the proposed rules provide for a computerised mechanism of I-voting to enable Overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote.

According to the rules, which are yet to be incorporated in Election Rules 2017, only those Overseas Pakistani voters shall be eligible for voting who possess a valid National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), valid Machine Readable passport (MRP) and valid E-mail address.

The Overseas Pakistani voter, desirous to cast his vote through I-voting from abroad, during registration time-period as may be fixed by the Commission, shall access the Overseas Voting System through the internet and shall create an account providing credentials including Name, Email address, Generating password of his choice, Mobile Phone Number (optional) and Country of Stay.

A confirmation email of account shall be forwarded by the system to the applicant at his given email address and by clicking on the link therein the voter shall be prompted to provide the number of his Machine Readable Passport with its tracking identity and NICOP number along with date of issuance thereof.

According to proposed rules, a verification process will also be conducted.  However in case the voter could not correctly reply set of questions, the system will allow multiple attempts to correctly reply failing which that NICOP number shall be restricted for further attempts. Upon successful verification, a unique passcode shall be forwarded to the applicant by the system through email before the polling day.

According to the proposed rules, on polling day, the voter shall log in to the overseas voting system using his username and password and shall avail the voting option from the system for casting his vote by entering unique passcode.

Upon successful submission of vote, a “confirmation” message shall be displayed on the screen.

Regarding preparation of results in respect of Overseas voting, the proposed rules state that after polling hours the ECP shall generate the Form-45 in respect of the constituency by using Reporting Portal of the Overseas Voting System and send the same to the Returning Officer concerned immediately through quickest means as are available for the purpose.

On receipt of Form-45, the Returning Officer shall include the results contained therein in the consolidated results of the count as furnished by the presiding officer to be prepared by him in such manner as the Commission may determine provided that the Commission may direct for non-inclusion of the result in respect of the Overseas voting during consolidation of results, if in its opinion, the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of the voting has not been maintained during the said voting.

The proposed rules are reproduced in the top court’s 10-page written order authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar who observed, “We (Court) are sanguine that the aforesaid proposed  rules shall be incorporated in the Election Rules, 2017 to enable Overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote in the forthcoming bye-elections.

While allowing different identical petitions, including the petition of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), regarding right of vote to overseas Pakistanis, the top court observed that Overseas Pakistanis had been conferred with the right to vote as per the interpretation of Article 17 of the Constitution.

“Thus where the right of Overseas Pakistanis to vote already exists as per the law and is duly recognized, it must necessarily be given due effect,” the top court further observed.

“For this reason, the word ‘may’ appearing in Section 94 of the Act is to be read as ‘shall’ and to this end, the only step which the ECP has to take is with regard to adoption of a suitable and effective mechanism and procedure by making appropriate rules under Section 239 of the Act.”

Accordingly, the top court in its written order stated, Section 94 of the Act makes it mandatory for ECP to conduct pilot projects enabling Overseas Pakistanis to vote in the upcoming by-elections.

The top court further observed that the phrase ‘pilot project’ would not mean that the votes of overseas Pakistanis could not be considered or treated as mock votes rather these votes were to serve as a sample.

The top court further observed that if the pilot project successfully accomplished, or if some technical problems or issues come to fore after removing the same, that this exercise of enabling Overseas Pakistanis to vote may then be replicated on a larger scale, i.e. for future General Elections.

“Besides, there is a safety net contained in the proviso to Rule 84-C(2) of the proposed rules for overseas voting. This allows ECP to direct exclusion of overseas votes from the final count if it is of the opinion that the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of voting has not been maintained or has for any reason been compromised.”

“This clearly suggests that overseas votes are to be included in the result of the by-elections unless excluded by the ECP for valid reasons.”

On August 17, the ECP had issued a notification regarding the schedule of by-elections for 37 constituencies both including national and provincial assemblies. 

“To our (Court) mind, undoubtedly these and subsequent by-elections (if any) are visualized, and fall within the meaning of, ‘bye-elections’ as contemplated by Section 94 of the Act for the pilot projects that ECP has to conduct in order to enable Overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote.”

“As already observed Overseas Pakistanis are clearly entitled to vote in the General Elections; they are therefore equally entitled to vote in bye-elections that are held to fill vacancies which have or will occur. The system so tried, tested and perfected can then be deployed in the next General Elections.” The ECP and NADRA had given presentations to the top court in the matter and a third party evaluation was also conducted regarding the safety, integrity and workability of the system.

“Based on these representations we prima facie find the mechanism of I-voting to be safe, reliable and effective for being utilized in a pilot project,” the top court observed in its written order.

“However, we direct the results of the bye-elections and the vote count of the votes cast by the Overseas Pakistanis through the I-voting mechanism shall be kept separately and also secret till the time that ECP is satisfied about the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of the votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis through the I-voting system,” the top court ruled.

The top court, however, ruled that ECP shall exclude the segregated votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis from the official result of the by-elections in accordance with the proviso to Rule 84-C(2) in case if ECP not satisfied about the integrity, safety and reliability of the systems. “This safety feature shall ensure that the elections are founded upon verified and authenticated votes only.”