ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court questioned how the amendment of the law of the right to vote of overseas Pakistanis is not constitutionally valid and directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to submit a progress report regarding the matter.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, on Friday, heard the petitions of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and President Pakistan Awami Muslim League (AML) Sheikh Rasheed and the appeal of Dawood Ghazanavi and dual national Atif Iqbal Khan against the IHC, which on June 6, 2022, had disposed of their petition after they had withdrawn it.
During the proceeding, Justice Muneeb Akhtar said the “Parliament enacted the Election Act in 2017”, adding that “Section 94 of the act regarding the right to vote of overseas Pakistanis is clear.” He further said that “in 2018, the apex court had declared Section 94 as constitutional.”
Justice Muneeb observed that in 2021 the law was further improved and the Parliament in 2022 brought back to the old level. He said how can the Court now declare the law to be unconstitutional which was declared constitutional in the past?
During the proceeding, Arif Chaudhry, appearing on behalf of Dawood Ghazanavi and Atif Khan informed the bench that the polling procedure has been made “difficult” to prevent overseas Pakistanis from voting. He said under Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP is legally bound to devise a mechanism to enforce the fundamental right of vote of overseas Pakistanis, which had been virtually taken away under the guise of the said amendment act.
The petitioners objected to the amendment in Section 94 in the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022, saying that despite that the law mandated the ECP to take some decisive acts to enable overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote, no action in this regard had been taken by the respondent.
They said that the former PTI government had made an amendment in sub-section (1) of Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 and the present regime, which was vociferously opposing the fundamental right of vote of overseas Pakistanis at all levels, also made an amendment in Section 94.
Sheikh Rasheed’s lawyer told the court that the ECP has halted work on the issue of overseas Pakistanis’ right to vote. “If the ECP takes steps to give the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis, there is no obstacle,” he added.
Justice Muneeb then questioned if the amendment of the Election Act has affected basic human rights, adding that “if the Parliament is amending the law, why should the court interfere?” He noted that “every enactment of Parliament is a constitutional concept no matter what the courts’ observations are.” “The petition filed for violation of fundamental rights should be clear,” remarked Justice Muneeb.
Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi then directed the petitioners’ lawyer to submit an amended application and also directed the electoral watchdog to submit a progress report on the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis.
The National Assembly on May 26, 2022, had passed a bill namely Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 which reversed the election laws introduced by the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regarding the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and E-voting for overseas Pakistanis.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023