Pakistan has joined 44 countries that allow citizens abroad to vote in elections back home. This has stirred a debate whether expatriates, who no longer live in the country and even possess dual nationality, should have the right to vote in elections and influence public policy.
There are roughly 9 million Pakistanis living outside the country who can swing elections in several constituencies in major cities. PM’s former aide Zulfi Bukhari admitted the overseas vote can make a difference of 20-30 seats in the general elections. Overseas Pakistanis have certainly welcomed the move but the decision has caused controversy whether those who don’t face the adversities and have left the country should be allowed voting rights.
The debate is significant as no country allows the kind of voting rights that Pakistan has extended to its overseas citizens. India does not allow citizens to acquire dual nationality and expats are allowed to vote if they have not acquired citizenship of another country. However, Pakistani expatriates have been allowed to retain their dual nationality and also vote in general elections back home.
Several countries such as Britain, Australia and many European countries allow their citizens abroad to vote but have certain conditions. The United States and France allow expatriates to vote in elections with no strings attached. It is imperative that the government should clarify how overseas Pakistanis will vote in the next elections.
The government is not bringing any new mechanism either but rather the Pakistani expatriates will be voting through the proposed i-voting system. However, the government should be cognizant of the ramifications of the legislation and how it could impact general elections. The PTI government seems confident the vote can tip in its favour.
Many Pakistanis leave the country for economic and social reasons to find employment or a better standard of living. Today, Pakistanis have settled in more than sixty countries around the world. They send remittances back home to their families, which is the biggest source of foreign earnings for Pakistan. It can be argued whether expatriates should be given the right to vote for helping the economy.