Overseas vote: a political labyrinth

The recent amendment to the law, disallowing overseas Pakistanis to vote electronically, has drawn mixed reactions from the Diaspora

Overseas vote: a  political labyrinth


verseas Pakistanis have played a vital role in the economic and social development of their country. However, many continue to face various problems back in Pakistan. Their complaints range from long standing disputes over land to dealing with unfriendly customs and immigration officials at airports. Several political parties have included measures in their manifestos to deal with the issues faced by overseas Pakistanis. Governments have set up commissions at the federal and provincial levels to address these concerns, and separate desks have been set up in courts. Yet, the outcome has failed to satisfy everybody. In fact, the complaints have only increased.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government had amended the Election Act to allow overseas Pakistanis to vote electronically in the elections. The decision was celebrated by many Pakistanis living abroad, especially by supporters of the PTI. The new government, however, has repealed the amendment. The decision has drawn mixed reactions from overseas Pakistanis.

Former federal minister for finance Ishaq Dar says that the government wants to guarantee suitable representation of overseas Pakistanis. He says an amendment to the law for this purpose will be brought before the parliament soon. He says that the objective of the government is not to deny voting rights to overseas Pakistanis but to give them effective representation in the parliament.

“Although Imran Khan’s government had allowed overseas Pakistanis to vote, the Diaspora would not have direct representation in the parliament. We are considering reserving special seats for them based on proportional representation,” says Ishaq Dar.

Zahid Raja, a central leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the UK, agrees with the idea of giving overseas Pakistanis special seats in the parliament. He says that such representation is more likely to solve their problems. “Overseas Pakistanis play a significant role in Pakistan’s economic development through foreign remittances, yet their problems are not being addressed.” He believes the overseas vote could play an important role in the politics of Pakistan. Raja hopes that the PML-N led coalition government will not politicise the issue.

Omar Memon, additional general secretary of the Pakistan Peoples Party UK chapter, approves of the suggestion to reserve seats in the parliament for overseas Pakistanis. He laments that issues concerning the Diaspora have been ignored for long. He says an effective representation of overseas Pakistanis in the parliament could help address these.

Waqar Ahmed, head of the UK Islamic Mission, Hounslow, says that Pakistani migrants are an asset to Pakistan. He says that while they were simultaneously participating in national and local politics in the UK, allowing them to vote back home will lead to increasing political rifts and tensions and would deepen divisions between Pakistanis living abroad. He suggests that foreign chapters of Pakistani political parties in the UK and Europe be closed down.

“Chapters and wings of Pakistani political parties in the UK are an enormous impediment to the participation of the Diaspora in local politics,” he says.

Asghar Shah, the first Pakistani councillor from Portsmouth who won both the Civic and the High Sheriff’s awards, was elected as a Labour councillor for the first time in 21 years. He says an effective mechanism to solve problems of overseas Pakistanis needs the protection of their right to vote as well as effective representation in the parliament. He suggests setting up constituencies in Pakistan with seats reserved for overseas Pakistanis, as has been done for Kashmiris to be represented in Azad Kashmir.

Siraj Afridi, the general secretary of the Pashtun Community Alliance, says that Pakistanis living in the UK must participate in local politics and play their role in British politics. He believes that neither the right to vote nor the representation through special seats in the parliament would allow ordinary overseas Pakistanis to enter the parliament. “This is because of the prevailing political system in Pakistan,” he says.

Some overseas Pakistanis have expressed concerns over the recent protests that were held in the UK by the PML-N and the PTI. They fear that if overseas Pakistanis are allowed to vote in Pakistan, the hostility between supporters of various political parties will increase.

It is pertinent to mention that after the passage of the recent amendments, overseas Pakistanis will not be able to cast their vote from abroad (electronically). However, they are allowed to cast their votes while residing in or travelling to Pakistan.

The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, daily Jang and The News in London

Overseas vote: a political labyrinth