Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2018

Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

  • E-vote system to be tested during by-polls
  • Online voting system not ready, says ECP secretary

ISLAMABAD: Some 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad will not be able to vote in the 2018 general elections following the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday that deployment of an e-voting system in haste would be harmful. 
Expats have expressed disappointment at the decision.
“I feel like I have been stripped of my basic right in determining a leader I would associate my identity to. Being a Pakistani citizen residing aboard and not able to vote does not benefit me or the person I intend to vote for,” said Sonum Asad, speaking to Arab News from the US. 
Mehroz Adil, from the UK, told Arab News: “Every year false promises are made to the nation and nothing is validated. I honestly feel my vote would not make a difference” since “I am not given the right to do so.”
A three-member judicial bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, resuming a court hearing on the viability of electronic voting for Pakistani expats, was told by politician Imran Khan’s lawyer Faisal Chaudhry that implementing an e-voting system was unattainable given the short period of time available. Elections are scheduled for July 25.
Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad told the apex court that an evaluation of the e-voting project by professionals suggested that “more work over the online system is required” and “at the moment” expats cannot be extended the “voting facility.” 
An international feasibility study of the untested voting system had suggested holding trials before giving the public access, the ECP secretary said at an earlier court session attended by Arab News.
Nisar said: “It is correct that this procedure is not possible right now. I tried to provide this facility to the overseas Pakistanis. But it will cause an immense loss at this point.” He added that “the e-voting process can be reviewed during by-polls” but the task force findings on non-implementation of the online voting system is to be made public.
The court had decided to form a task force after hearing experts and lawmakers raise objections and fears about rolling out the country’s first online voting system for overseas Pakistanis in a matter of weeks. 
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed told Arab News that the suggestion for the task force was his idea. Nisar was commended on the e-voting initiative, but asked the court to approach the matter cautiously.
Nisar had taken the initiative on petitioners' pleas to extend the right to vote to 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad and ordered NADRA and ECP to devise a system.
NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. The judges quizzed NADRA on the voting portal’s security. NADRA said that measures against unauthorized access and known threats had been taken but foolproof security could not be guaranteed.
“There is no system that is 100 percent hackproof” said a NADRA official, and told the judges that a third party will need to evaluate and asses the system's fairness, integrity and security. The final product will cost about $1.3 million.
Experts from Pakistan’s three leading universities expressed their views on front-end visuals of the voting portal but were skeptical of the back end of the software, which required examination.
“This is a discredited model,” said Taha Ali from the National University of Science and Technology. “The world has moved away from this (voting model)” and gave examples of similar failed voting systems in the US, France, Germany and other countries.
Pakistan Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali also cautioned the court and said that deliberations had to continue to ensure voter secrecy, stability of the system and ease of implementation.
Anwar Mansoor Khan, one of the main petitioners seeking overseas voting rights, told Arab News: “There are delaying tactics being played. They can implement this. It is not a problem but there is a problem where various politicians don’t want this to be implemented” who don’t have a vote bank abroad.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”