LHC seeks reply from govt and ECP over overseas Pakistani voting

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday sought replies from the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on a civil miscellaneous application seeking direction to comply with court orders regarding the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis.

LHC’s Justice Shujaat Ali Khan issued the notice and stipulated that a response from the relevant parties was required by June 14.

As the proceedings commenced, the petitioner’s counsel, advocate Azhar Siddique, argued that the supreme court had permitted expatriates to cast their vote in the general elections. Similarly, the LHC had also passed clear instructions to the concerned quarters wherein the right to vote had been granted.

Despite court orders, the election commission displayed hesitance to comply, with no concrete measures taken to ensure that overseas Pakistanis will be allowed to exercise their vote, added the petition. 

Counsellor Siddique requested the high court to pass directions to the electoral watchdog to ensure their compliance with the court’s orders. He further requested the court to direct the ECP to ensure the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM).

Siddique argued that the apex court had convened a “historic session pertaining to the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis” on April 12, 2018.

The session was presided over by the former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar. Members of various political parties, IT experts from local universities, concerned citizens and members of the media attended the session.

During the session, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) demonstrated iVOTE, an e-voting platform that would allow expats to cast their votes through the internet.

However, IT experts aired concerns regarding potential security issues posed by the deployment of the technology. As a result, on the directions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the ECP constituted a Task Force on April 19, 2018, to undertake a technical audit of the iVOTE platform.

On May 24, 2022, the LHC passed clear directions to the Secretary of the ECP to appear and explain steps taken upon the suggestion floated by NADRA for the implementation of the software. The LHC required the secretary to explain measures taken for fool-proof voting.

On May 24, 2022, the Chief Project Officer for NADRA stated that EVMs were deployed in 36 constituencies which reported technical glitches. The officer added that issues were discussed with an international firm of repute and after due consultation, the matter was referred to ECP for approval.

Subsequently, the NADRA official informed the court that upon signing the contract with the international firm, the application of the software would take over 12 months- regarding which deliberation between NADRA and ECP were underway.