President Returns Elections Amendment Bill, 2022

F.P. Report

Islamabad: President Dr. Arif Alvi has returned the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in terms of Clause (1) (b) of Article 75 of the Constitution to the Prime Minister for reconsideration and detailed deliberation by the Parliament and its Committee (s).
He observed that the Article 46 of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been violated as the President was not informed about this legislative proposal before bringing this Bill to the Parliament.

The Article 46 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan provides that “the Prime Minister shall keep the President informed……. on all legislative proposals the Federal Government intends to bring before Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)”.

The President further observed that the amendments has been passed by the National Assembly on 26th May, 2022 and by the Senate on 27th May, 2022 in haste and without due diligence. He added that the legislation having far reaching impact on the society should have been discussed in details in consultation with the legal fraternity and civil society.

He said that Overseas Pakistanis, who contribute their hard-earned wealth for the development and prosperity of their beloved country, have been deprived of the voting rights despite the fact that various commitments have been made to them by different Prime Ministers and Presidents during their overseas trips since 1990’s.

As a result of constant pursuance by them, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018 upheld its earlier decision of 2014 on the voting rights of Overseas Pakistanis and reiterated that with improving technology, efforts should be made to allow them to vote from outside of Pakistan, the President said.

The Court while endorsing the I-Voting observed that that the I-Voting mechanism has been declared safe, reliable and effective by the third party when referred to it by the ECP and NADRA to determine its safety integrity and workability and the Court approved I-voting for utilization in a pilot project, he added.

The pilot project was supposed to be real vote casting exercise as against mock exercise to empower Overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes during bye-elections held after 2018 and to serve as a sample and if successfully accomplished, to enforce I-Voting for future general elections, he noted.

The court clearly observed “We direct the results of the bye-elections and the vote count of the votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis through the I-Voting mechanism shall be kept separately and also secret till the time that ECP is satisfied about the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of the votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis through the I-voting system.”

The President further observed that according to the notification dated 17.08.2018 issued by the ECP regarding the programmes of the next bye-elections for 2018, the bye elections of 37 constituencies (both National and Provincial) were scheduled to take place on 14.10.2018, therefore, subsequent bye-elections (if any) as contemplated by Section 94 of the Act for the pilot projects the Elections have to be conducted in order to enable Overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote which undoubtedly entitled them to vote in the next General Elections.

The President while referring to the Supreme Court judgement said that the Supreme Court expressed its regret on the system not being used despite its judgment in 2014, “The right to vote of Overseas Pakistanis is enshrined in Article 17 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 (the Constitution)”.
He said the objections on the possibility of hacking the I-Voting have no ground as the amount of digital financial transactions taking place are to the tune of approximately $5 Trillion daily which has been increasing to almost $8.5 Trillion every day. He highlighted that the probability of a plane crash is thousands of times higher than the probability of hacking of a digital transaction today.

The President emphasized that with very secure digital payments solutions already existing, and with more than $8 trillion transacted daily, the same processes can ensure anonymity and security of the vote and can also be subjected to complete audit on the truth-match of the vote cast. He stressed that the lack of trust can be overcome if the procedures, the hardware, and software used is opened up and given to political parties for undertaking audit, with national or international companies of their choice, months before elections. However, blockchain process also ensures no tampering can take place after the vote has been cast.

While further arguing the President said that EVM to be adopted by Pakistan is unique and combines a paper system of votes as we already practice, together with an electronic counting to keep a permanent supportive safety record. The legislature can always make laws that in case of discrepancy or dispute, the paper count rather than the electronic count will take priority or vice versa. There is no risk involved, he said.

“In Pakistan the stigma of rigging is attached to every election resulting in that every government has to bear an allegation of non-representation, reducing its credibility in some segment of the population within the country thus weakening it, and also with implications internationally. Billions are lost in litigation and confrontation”, the President added.
He observed that the new amendments in this form are like taking one step forward, and then panicking and taking two steps backward. Changing them back is tantamount to unnecessarily delaying these technical processes for the advancement and transparency of elections in Pakistan. He recommended that Parliament should not regress on these laws, in fact only improve them with set time lines to ensure implementation.