Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday congratulated overseas Pakistanis on getting the right to vote, saying all future governments would now value Pakistani expats and work for their facilitation.
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad for the launch of a digital portal to enable overseas citizens to verify the power of attorney, the premier said the people resisting voting rights for non-resident Pakistanis and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) were part of the status quo that benefitted from the old “corrupt” system.
His remarks come a day after the government, amid vociferous protest by the opposition, managed to bulldoze amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, in a joint session of parliament, thereby allowing the use of EVMs and granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. The legislation was strongly rejected by the opposition, which alleged that the government was trying to rig the elections through the use of electronic machines.
“It made me especially happy yesterday that we have now included overseas Pakistanis in Pakistan’s democracy,” the prime minister told the ceremony. He said the rights given to expats meant that “now every government will be bound to value our overseas Pakistanis because they can now vote.”
When they vote, the nine million non-resident Pakistanis will vote for the government that can improve their lives. “So the biggest benefit will be that a citizen can keep a check on the government through their vote in a democracy,” he emphasised.
The premier said the passage of legislation regarding EVMs also made him very happy, and noted that rapidly changing technology was bringing ease to humans’ lives in all spheres.
“So there can’t be a more foolish mentality than avoiding the use of technology today,” he said, recalling that a government commission and the ECP had recommended the use of EVMs as far back as 2008.
“But why weren’t they accepted? [Because] all the people benefitting from the old system will never allow change.”
The prime minister cited other incidents where his government’s reforms were resisted, recalling that people “working inside utility stores” had obtained stay orders from court after the government tried to automate their systems in order to check pilferage.
The Federal Board of Revenue, too, has been unable to reform its revenue collection because people inside the board oppose automation, he said, adding that under the existing system, “money doesn’t go to the government but the tax collectors make a lot of it”.
He further said the FBR had been trying to introduce the track and trace system to curb tax evasion by major companies and businesses for the last 15 years but had been unable to. “Now after three years of efforts by us, we are bringing the track and trace system, which has been sabotaged for many years, next week for the first time in Pakistan’s history,” he announced.
With the launch of the ‘Digital Power of Attorney’ portal, overseas Pakistanis can apply for PoA “from the comfort of [their] homes”, Nadra Chairperson Tariq Malik said on Twitter. The portal has been developed by the National Database and Registration Authority.
Malik noted that approximately 75,000 people visited Pakistani foreign missions for the issuance of PoA annually, which they no longer needed to.
“This innovative web-based solution by Nadra utilises online biometrics verification & video interview to verify applicants remotely for PoA issuance,” he shared.
The pilot phase of the project has been launched in 10 Pakistani missions in the United States and United Kingdom; it will be rolled out globally in 10 weeks.