External voting remains a contentious issue in many countries; those that already conduct external voting and those that are contemplating on embarking on this exercise, voluntarily or as per the mandate impressed upon by the constitution to provide the right to vote to all citizens inside or outside of the countries. While some countries are managing the process effectively some are experiencing major challenges that stem from the franchise criteria, the method used and the cost of the project.
Furthermore, many countries are challenged by whether External voting should be allowed on all elections and whether those in the diaspora should have any reserved seats. Some countries have experienced a low voter turnout each time they embarked on this exercise with no improvement in sight. Voter apathy and a lack of resources to access the process have been cited as some of the reasons for this low voter turnout amongst other reasons. As the Electoral management bodies are striving to find the most effective ways of managing the process, the political parties continue to apply pressure on them to execute the process irrespective of any challenges encountered. The Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP) experiences the same.
Subsequent to the ordinance issued by the High Court of Pakistan that the Electoral Commission must make arrangements to conduct External Voting for Pakistan citizen leaving outside of the country in order to provide those eligible to vote an opportunity to exercise the right to vote and therefore participating in the democracy of Pakistan. This right is extended to Pakistan diaspora community and entitles them by virtue of being Pakistan citizens. On the backdrop of this development the Electoral Commission of Pakistan in conjunction with the International foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) organized a two-day BRIDGE “External voting Course” in Lahore, Pakistan on 10-11 September 2014.
BRIDGE External Voting Course: A two-day training workshop was designed and customised to suit the Pakistan context while several examples and case studies of other countries were presented in order to provide the participants with a broader global perspective outlining the countries where the systems are successful and where the challenges are encountered while also discussing possible opportunities. The participants were taken through an intensive programme, which encompassed content on; Context of External Voting; Legal Framework and Franchise Criteria in Pakistan; Impact of Electoral Systems on External Voting; Identifying the categories of voter and stakeholders and outlining their roles in the process; Identifying the Appropriate Voting Methods for External Voters; Opportunities, Risks and Challenges of External Voting and Case Studies of different countries, Planning and Implementation: Registration, The cost of External Voting and Budget items for the different possible methods. The participants also developed a Strategic Plan for External Voting
The course commenced at 09:30 on day 1 with an opening and welcome by Ms Kulsoom Akhtar, Senior Training Specialist – IFES Pakistan, followed by the speech from Mr Shabir Ahmed, Deputy Country Director, IFES Pakistan; brief remarks from facilitators Mr Peter Erben and Ms Sibongile Zimemo, followed by the speech from the guest speaker Mr Khalique-ur-Rheman, Acting Provincial Electoral Commissioner; Electoral Commission of Pakistan who officially opened the programme.
Twenty-six participants took part in the course. The experience, content knowledge, commitment and enthusiasm demonstrated by all participants throughout the workshop contributed to the achievement of the aims of the training. The mixture of different experiences and expertise contributed to the success of the workshop. Participants exchanged information, experiences and practices among themselves and with the facilitators.
Three facilitators (1 Male; 2 Females) participated in the delivery of the course. Sibongile Zimemo (Female), Consultant, South Africa; Peter Erben (Male), IFES Indonesia Chief of Party and IFES Global Adviser; Kulsoom Akhtar (Female), Senior Training Specialist; IFES Pakistan. The facilitators also sourced the expertise of Aysha Jushaat who is an expert on External Voting. She provided the team with reference materials and her relevant and valuable input was put to good use.
The facilitation team provided a positive environment and established a very good professional relationship with the participants and the positive spirit was maintained throughout the programme.
The participants, who all successfully completed the course, received their certificates during the official closing of the programme.
I thank the host; Electoral Commission of Pakistan and the sponsor of the programme; the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES), the facilitators and participants; wishing you everything of the best in all your endeavours.