ISLAMABAD: Nearly 10 million Pakistani nationals residing in 200 countries hold the National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), who could get the right to vote in the next general elections. The NICOP is a registration document for the overseas citizens of Pakistan, aged 18 or above.
Six countries host over 80pc of the 9,906,175 potential overseas voters that include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Oman, Canada and the United States, according to official data exclusively available with Geo News.
A little over 58pc of these potential overseas voters are concentrated in 20 districts that include Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujrat, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Karachi East, Karachi Central, Dera Ghazi Khan, Jhelum, Attock, Karachi South, Multan, Swabi, Peshawar, Islamabad, Sargodha, Mandi Bhauddin, Mardan and Swat.
With 709,821 NICOP holders, district Lahore has the highest number of potential overseas voters in Punjab, followed by Rawalpindi with 546,507 and Sialkot with 472,795 potential voters. In Sindh, Karachi Central has the highest number of voters with 346,960 NICOP holders, followed by Karachi East and South with 221,312 and 169,321 probable voters respectively. In KPK, Swat leads the way with 225,764 while 206,600 likely overseas voters belong to the federal capital Islamabad.
As many as 91 NA seats fall in these 20 districts. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) currently has 52 MNAs from these districts, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) 30 MNAs and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) one NA seat and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has two MNAs. With overseas voters added, PTI could hope to consolidate its position in these districts and might even succeed in gaining a few seats.
In the last general elections, PTI got 16,903,702 votes, PMLN 12,934,589 and PPP 6,924,356 votes, with an overall vote-share of 31%, 24% and 13% respectively.
The Geo News’ investigation determines that if 35% to 50% of potential overseas voters exercise their right to vote and PTI manages 30% of those, the party would gain between one million to one and a half million votes. If PTI’s share in those votes go up-to 50%, it could gain 1.7 to 2.4 million votes, making it the largest beneficiary.
In 2018, PTI won 116 National Assembly seats, a seat every 145,721 votes. Hence with overseas votes, they could end up gaining between 5 to 7 NA seats that could go up to 10 seats if the turnout exceeds 50%. However, there are factors likely to affect these scenarios like the voter turnout, in constituencies where the party's potential overseas voter is concentrated and the assumption that the PTI would be the prime beneficiary of the overseas votes.
If 35 to 50% overseas Pakistanis participate in voting and PML-N gets 20% of that chunk, the party could potentially gain between 6 to 10 lac votes, helping it gain 3 to 5 seats.
But in the PMLN’s case a big factor is that they may gain more votes but which doesn't always translate into more seats. In 2018, PMLN won 64 seats, getting 12,934,589, which converted to 202,102 votes per won seat. The number is higher by 60,000 votes, in comparison to PTI and 40,000 to the PPP. This trend shows that PML-N gets a high number of votes from specific constituencies, increasing its overall share but not enough to win it more seats. This is another reason why the addition of overseas voters is likely to benefit PTI more than the PML-N.
The PPP is unlikely to benefit much from the overseas votes, as recent trends show it does not have much support in Punjab and overseas voters are unlikely to change that scenario. Whereas in Sindh the party already holds a strong position. The MQM is another party that could benefit in Karachi, with the presence of 310,979 potential overseas votes.
The Geo News' findings however suggest that if a large number of overseas voters do not come forward to vote, any significant impact on the outcome of 2023 general elections is unlikely. If we look at global trends for overseas voting, the turnout usually remains below 10%.
PTI, PMLN and PPP, despite several attempts made by this correspondent, did not provide details about their overseas memberships nor have any of them apparently organised data related to their workers abroad. PTI's Dr Abdullah Riar, who is overseeing his party expats' affairs, claimed that "PTI has over tens of thousands of members registered in different countries," however, he did not provide further details or list of countries where those members are residing.
The "PMLN support among overseas Pakistanis is estimated to be over 60% as demonstrated by their presence in our events on comparable grounds with other political parties," claimed Ishaq Dar, in-charge of his party’s overseas wing. He, however, said that name-wise lists are not prepared abroad, as it is impractical. "This applies to all political parties as per our field information," Dar claimed.
Raja Pervez Ashraf, who heads PPP’s overseas wing, could not provide any data of his party's membership abroad. But the Geo News learnt on authority that the PPP's overseas membership decreased in the past five years. Some 30pc workers of the party joined PTI during this period, a senior PPP leader confided to this correspondent. The "PPP is trying to regain its glory abroad. Party needs to review ranks looking after expats' affairs," said PPP leader Rehman Malik, ex-head of PPP’s overseas wing.
Background meetings and interviews with representatives of Pakistan's three leading political parties suggest that collectively PTI, PMLN and PPP have potential support of around six million overseas workers in different countries, with ruling PTI taking the lead over its two competitors. However, available official records obtained from their offices revealed only 0.5 million for PTI, 0.3 million for PMLN and 120,000 for PPP are actually active members. These numbers may hint the actual number of overseas Pakistanis, likely to participate in the elections, if proposed amendments go through.
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