IT is a good idea, in principle. But with the elections mere weeks away, how practical is it? On Thursday, a day after rejecting Dr Tahirul Qadri’s petition on the grounds that he is a dual national, the Supreme Court released a set of proposals to ensure that voting rights for overseas Pakistanis are secured in the coming polls. Amongst the suggestions presented was an immediate meeting between the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Ministries of Interior and Overseas Pakistanis to devise a mechanism in this regard, converting Pakistani missions abroad into polling stations, and directing the National Registration and Database Authority to speed up the process of issuing National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis to all those expatriates who do not possess them.
This is all very well, but as the court itself noted, where the practicalities are concerned the task is arduous. The process would have to start with identifying those eligible to vote which, presumably, could be settled by Nadra. After that would come the identification of constituencies, creating a system for votes to physically be cast, making staff available, ensuring the vailability of ballot papers (and making sure they remain confidential) and so on. This constitutes a massive bureaucratic exercise requiring funds that might run into the billions given that the polls include constituencies for not just seats in the National Assembly — of which there are 272 — but also for the provincial assemblies. Together, the number of ballot papers required and the mechanics of allowing expatriate Pakistanis to vote present a formidable picture. It would perhaps be more pragmatic, then, to confine the exercise to settling in principle overseas Pakistanis right to vote, and opening up a debate on the various methods through which this could be made possible. There is nothing to bar legislation on a new system for expatriate voters such as, for example, creating a new constituency for them or making the entire country one constituency in terms of these voters, as was earlier the case for non-Muslim citizens. The coming polls are important; no new arrangement should be ordered that can potentially delay them.