The Supreme Court of Pakistan recently moved to grant voting rights to eight million Pakistanis living abroad. The Election Commission of Pakistan secretary and the Nadra DG were also urged to take measures to provide them with voting rights in the upcoming elections.

Overseas Pakistanis, being dignified citizens of the country, have the right to participate in the election process in terms of Article 17 of the Constitution. They cannot be deprived of this right just on the ground that they reside outside the country.

Previously, as the ordinance could not be placed before the National Assembly to become an act, it lapsed after four months and no further legislation was passed to implement the Supreme Court’s judgment. As a result, the overseas Pakistanis could not exercise their right to vote in the general elections and the LG polls in Balochistan in December 2014. PTI has come forth as a great advocate for this cause, where it is leading this struggle from the front both in courts within Pakistan and also mobilizing the expat population by raising awareness of the issue. Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq, has also called upon the government to immediately grant voting right to over two million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. Do the successive governments then resist this, because they are scared of their opposition? Or is it that they will automatically lose their vote bank?

In 2014, overseas Pakistanis added $17 billion to the country’s foreign exchange coffers through home remittances, which is nearly six per cent of Pakistan’s GDP- a significant contribution to its economy. Overseas Pakistanis make major contributions to the country’s economy year after year. They are proud of their country and their contribution to their homeland. It is then unfortunate that despite the Supreme Court’s orders to arrange voting facilities for overseas Pakistanis, no effort has been made either by the previous or current governments in this regard.

The ECP is of the view that it would be difficult to ensure transparency in elections if they were given right to vote. This is no excuse. It should not be difficult to arrange online voting facilities for them, provided the will is there. In the Middle East, where a large number of construction workers reside, physical voting should be arranged through embassies and consulates. Overseas Pakistanis have the right to ask to be included in the voting process. If their money is good enough, so is their vote.