Electronic Voting Machine: A new Pandora box of election reforms

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Current government of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) has announced the election reforms in the country and urged that in upcoming general elections Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) will be used as a tool for voting. Pakistan would be the first South Asian countries to conduct/execute a complete election process through this proposed digital machine (EVM). On the other hand, opposition parties rejected the government stance by claiming that the government wants digital rigging in forthcoming elections. Majority of the population cannot use EVM due to the low literacy rate in the country.

Conflict is ongoing between government and opposition on election reforms. Government is initiating the election reforms under ‘Elections Act 2017’.

Election commission of Pakistan (ECP) declared that few points of ‘Elections Act 2017’ apparently seem against the constitution and need more clarification; these points include preparation of electoral lists, review purgative and use of EVM. Election commission of Pakistan also shows its concern that proper legislature procedure is not adopted in ‘Elections Act 2017’.  ECP has raised 37 objections on EVM in a report, which was submitted to the Senate standing committee on parliamentary affairs. It is said in the report that through EVM free, fair and transparent elections could not be held under the umbrella of the constitution. “EVM could not resist rigging, it could be hacked easily, and its software could be tempered / changed. EVM do not ensure secrecy of vote and voter identity. All stakeholders are not on the same page, pilot testing is not possible before general elections due to shortage of time, and above all required funds are not available for implementation of new election procedure throughout the country. There are some loopholes in the legislature process which necessitates more interpretations”, said in the ECP report. In ‘Elections Act 2017’, the role of ECP in the preparation of electoral lists has become zero, now it is the responsibility of NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) to update the voter’s list.         

Advisor to Prime Minster on parliamentary affairs, Dr. Babur Awan while speaking to EAT News said, “Electronic Voting Machine will be used in 2023 general elections. Government is already started working on legislation on EVM which will be done in 2021 positively, if necessary, a joint session of the parliament (National Assembly and Senate) will be summoned on said issue”. He emphasized that the ruling party is in majority in parliament and they will ensure use of EVM in general elections 2023. He said, this machine will facilitate all those Pakistanis who are living abroad as right of vote to these Pakistanis as part of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) manifesto.

Opposition senior leader Ahsan Iqbal from Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) during media briefing said “with present laws, elections would be executed in the best way, change in EVM memory card or chip could be possible ways to manipulate the election results. It is essential that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should also approve the usage of EVM. Unless all political parties and other stakeholders will not have trust in EVM, its transparency will remain doubtful”.

Pakistan People’s Party Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar while talking to EAT News said, “I believe that the Election Commission of Pakistan is not supporting Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). In the previous general election2018, the Results Transmission System (RTS) was a failed attempt, so do we want to repeat the same episode? Electronic Voting Machine is not the domain of the government, Election commission of Pakistan is the true constitutional body to look after this issue.” He questioned the sitting PTI government that if these machines would have not worked properly what would be the alternate methodology to collect and finalize the election results.

Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, while briefing the media men said, the government believes in election reforms; this is the reason the government is inviting opposition parties for electoral reforms but they are not interested in the issue.  He criticized that former President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif never elected for a single time without rigging. Opposition deems the status quo; PTI is the only party who is working seriously on election reforms. “Election reforms are divided into four major parts EVM, E-Voting, Biometric verification and legislation” he added.

Former secretary election commission Kunwar Dilshad said according to the constitution of ECP is an autonomous body if someone tries to manipulate it, this won’t be useful.  “I believe EVM will not give 100 percent results in terms of transparency especially in the absence of pre testing” he was in conversation with Eat News.

Former senator of Pakistan People’s Party Farhat ulllah Babar during a press conference in Islamabad said, “Pakistan is not a safe country in terms of cybercrime, we listen a lot of news regarding Internet breach and cyber hacking. Keeping in view this situation, use of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) could be dangerous and could affect the election results”. 

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Fraz during an interview with EAT news said, “EVM cannot be tempered, all those who are against the transparency in elections are against the Electronic Voting Machine. Work in different phases has already been started on EVM since 2010. It is not true that EVM is being introduced for rigging in the upcoming election”. He termed the Election Commission of Pakistan concerns baseless about EVM. “Meanwhile we will address the objects raised by the opposition and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)”, he added.

Experts say that PM Imran Khan is enthusiastic to introduce Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in the general election 2023. Government will ensure the clearness in the voting process as government machinery believes ‘right to vote’ is one of the fundamental rights of every citizen of Pakistan as promised by constitution 1973. 

People of Pakistan are eagerly waiting to see what would be the future of this conflict between government and opposition but everyone wants a free, fair and transparent election in the country. 

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Muhammad Farhan Niazi is a correspondent for Eat News in Pakistan and is an experienced senior producer with a demonstrated history of working in the media production industry. Skilled in feature and news writing, non-linear editing, radio, multimedia journalism, Online journalism, film production, and sound. Strong media and communication professional graduated from University of Peshawar.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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