x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 August 2017

Pakistani expatriates minister backs right to vote

Voting rights, delays in passport renewals and the completion of a long awaited community hall are among the issues Pakistani diplomats are looking to resolve.

DUBAI// Voting rights, delays in passport renewals and the completion of a long awaited community hall are among the issues Pakistani diplomats are looking to resolve.

Feroze Jamal Shah Kakakheil, the caretaker minister for Overseas Pakistanis, told a meeting of community members in the emirate on Tuesday evening that he was in favour of giving Pakistani expatriates the opportunity to vote.

"I fully support this but we need to wait on what the decision is from the Supreme Court and the Election Commission in Pakistan before anything can happen," he said.

"Overseas Pakistanis play an important role and I feel they should be allowed to vote on elections in the country."

Mr Kakahell said the ministry was in favour of voting rights for Pakistanis abroad but said a final decision was yet to be taken. He said his ministry had asked all missions and embassies abroad to make voting arrangements.

At the beginning of April the Pakistan ambassador to the UAE said 45 polling booths would be set up across the country to allow for expatriates to vote.

But a few days later the Election Commission of Pakistan said it would not be possible for overseas Pakistanis to vote saying there had to be a proper mechanism and legislation before it could happen.

Since then the commission has been in talks with the Supreme Court in Pakistan on trying to resolve the situation.

Earlier this week the Supreme Court rejected a draft proposal from the commission saying the recommendations were too complicated and had to be simplified.

The Pakistan Consul General Tariq Iqbal Soomro, who was also at the meeting at the Pakistan Association Dubai headquarters in Bur Dubai, said the remaining funding for the association's multi-purpose community hall had been found.

"A significant donor has come forward and will fund the remainder of the project," he said.

"We are just completing the procedural formalities and then the hall can be completed."

The project has been in limbo since last year after a Dh4 million shortfall in funding.

The Pakistan Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai were issuing temporary extension stamps on Pakistani passports that were about to expire, he said.

This is because of continuing delays in Pakistan on renewing the documents due to a shortage of laminated paper.

"We are getting new passports through but it is at a slow rate so we have been extending passports in this manner," he said.

"We can extend them from two months to two years depending on the requirement.

"We have written to host countries around the world informing them that this is what we are doing. So far we have not received any reports that people are having problems with visas because of the temporary stamps."

The meeting was also told that special centres were to be set up in Islamabad to train Pakistanis wishing to come to the Middle East for work.

"South Korea has set up a centre there where they are training people on the language and other skills they will need to work there.

"We are looking to do something similar for people wishing to come to Arab countries for work."

He added that 96 per cent of Pakistanis were opting to come to the Middle East compared with around 1 per cent to Europe.

nhanif@thenational.ae