It has long become an inherent part of local executive habit and culture to allow matters of national significance to languish and drift aimlessly because the leadership at any given moment was unfortunately ‘otherwise engaged’, either by being needlessly distracted by unseemly rows with political rivals, or engrossed in court proceedings and totally absorbed in personal survival. The passionate issue of permitting the ever-growing Pakistan diaspora, the world’s sixth largest, to participate in national elections was also hanging fire since ages, for reasons more of sloth and indifference, but the matter has finally been resolved satisfactorily with the Supreme Court judgment on Friday giving mandatory legal umbrella to the enfranchisement of reportedly 7.6 million overseas Pakistanis, of which six million are eligible voters, whose welcome involvement by e-voting or i-voting would cost the exchequer a mere Rs.150 million, when compared to the Rs.20 billion-plus expended on July 25 general elections. A meagre trifle indeed, when the patriotic sentiments of millions of expatriates are at stake in an exercise that eventually binds them closer to the homeland. Incidentally, $20 billion was the amount remitted to Pakistan by overseas workers in 2017.
Some of the basic infrastructure work has already been accomplished by the two main players in the electoral exercise, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Database Authority (NADRA), such as including the names of overseas Pakistanis in the voters list and developing complementary software, but as pointed out in the Supreme Court order and ECP-constituted Internet Voting Task Force’s report, a lot of lacunae need to be tackled before the system is ready for full-fledged general election. To test-trial i-voting process, or voting from abroad using a computer connected to the internet, pilot projects would be initiated in limited areas of constituencies in upcoming by-elections for detecting any technical or procedural complications, and results forwarded to parliament to decide the system’s future scope. Such aspects as determining constituencies for expatriates, keeping i-votes separate or otherwise, cyber-attacks, hacking or e-scams, voter secrecy, voter coercion, and unexpected technical glitches, such as occurred in Returns Transmission System recently, somewhat casting aspersions on transparency of 2018 general election, need to be made watertight and fool-proof.