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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Overseas Pakistanis will not get vote
General Musharraf with wife and mother at referendum polling station in April
General Musharraf voting in the April referendum

Pakistanis living overseas will not be able to vote in the country's general elections in October, according to officials at the country's election commission.


General Musharraf had no problem in giving them the right to vote in his rigged referendum

Zafar Shah of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy
The only Pakistanis abroad who will be able to cast postal ballots will be those serving in diplomatic missions.

This development overturns a recent decision to permit Pakistanis living abroad to vote in the April referendum when General Musharraf was elected for another five years as president.

The question of the right of expatriates to vote in elections has been under consideration in the courts for several years.

There are more than 1.5m Pakistanis living in 76 countries - including the Gulf states and Europe - eligible to vote.

'Adverse reaction'

The plans were shelved after the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said there could be an adverse reaction from Arab Gulf states to any form of political activity by the large Pakistani community there.

Ballot box
There is not enough time for voting arrangements, officials say
Pakistan would be reluctant to offend the wealthy Gulf states, who give provide important financial support.

And it is also significant that former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are based in the Gulf, one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the other in Saudi Arabia.

Officials also say there is not enough time to make the arrangments for Pakistani citizens living abroad to vote in these polls.

"In the referendum they (Pakistani expatriates) voted for one person," say an Election Commision official.

"But in our system of constituency-based elections there would be so many politicians and it would be difficult to extend the right of vote even through postal ballot system"

Mistrust

But political parties doubt the intentions of the government.

"General Musharraf had no problem in giving them the right to vote in his rigged referendum, because he wanted to show the Western world how popular he is," says Zafar Shah, secretary information of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD).

PML rally
The opposition questions the government's motives
"But now he has a problem because he knows Pakistanis living abroad are either with Nawaz Sharif's party or Benazir Bhutto's party. And he does not like to see them winning the elections," he says.

Two visiting British MPs of Pakistani origin are divided in their opinion on whether the vote should be extended to Pakistanis living abroad.

"It will create further divisions within Pakistani community living Britain," Labour Party MP Mohammed Sarwar told BBC.

But Khalid Mahmood, an MP from Birmingham, says that "in principle they (overseas Pakistanis) should have a right to vote."

Observers feel this issue of not giving voting rights to overseas Pakistanis will further deepen the distrust between the country's biggest political parties and President Pervez Musharraf.

Political parties are already opposed to proposed amendments empowering General Musharraf to sack the cabinet and dissolve the assembly and as well as measures which bar previous prime ministers from the office for a third time.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

12 Jul 02 | South Asia
12 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Jul 02 | South Asia
27 Jun 02 | South Asia
12 Jul 02 | South Asia
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