Shehbaz Sharif govt deprives 9mn overseas Pakistanis from voting rights

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The Pakistan government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has passed the Elections Amendment Bill 2022, removing the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in general elections, and also disallowing at least 9 million overseas Pakistanis from having the right to vote.

The bill was passed from the National Assembly on Thursday with a majority vote after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi presented the bill. The Amendment was proposed in the Election Act 2017, which was previously amended and allowed overseas Pakistanis the right to vote through the Electronic Voting Machines in the general elections.

“The PTI government had made the amendments through the Election Second Amendment Bill 2021, which it had bulldozed through the National Assembly along with 32 other legislations on November 17, 2021,” said Azam Nazeer Tarar, Federal Minister for Law and Justice.

“The bill presented today sought to revive the Elections Act 2017, in the shape prior to those amendments, which would ensure free, fair and transparent elections,” he added.

As per the latest approved amendments, Section 94 of the Election Act 2017, ECP may conduct pilot project for voting by overseas Pakistani in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficiency, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before the house of parliament.

“We only have concerns about the misuse of technology as a Results Transmission System had failed in last general elections to favour a particular political party,” said Tarar.

While the decision has flared up widespread criticism over the government’s alleged fear that overseas Pakistanis will be voting in favour of their arch political rival Imran Khan in the coming elections; government benches dispelled the notion stating that intention behind the approval of bill is not targeted at overseas Pakistanis.

“Overseas Pakistanis are a precious asset of the country and the government does not believe in snatching their right to vote,” said Tarar.

Use of EVMs has been in testing phase by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). However, with lack of internet connectivity in many parts of the country, the utility and use of EVMs within the country is also a matter of concern for the government.

“EVMs were being used across the world and Pakistan should at least try using them. If not the whole country, then use them in some areas,” said Ghous Baksh Mehr from opposition party Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) during the parliament session.

It seems that after Imran Khan failed to create public pressure by attracting masses to his anti-government long march, the government wants to make some required amendments of election reforms and go into early elections, a demand that Imran Khan has also been making.

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