The issue involving the use of EVMs for the next general election has become more complicated, expanding its tentacles beyond the national level into the provincial and even local bodies’...
The issue involving the use of EVMs for the next general election has become more complicated, expanding its tentacles beyond the national level into the provincial and even local bodies’ domain. Punjab has indicated it is ready and willing to hold the next local government polls using EVMs. The Election Commission has said it has to decide on the matter and that its decision will be based once a new draft law on the LB polls is handed over to it by the Punjab government. The Punjab government is using the federal government’s legislation as a pretext to justify the EVMs in Punjab. The federal government has indeed legislated in this regard but this legislation has been without any consensus and consultation; the joint session of the parliament which passed this law saw strong protest from the opposition. The Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Act (PLGA) 2021 will now have an additional clause regarding the use of EVMs in all upcoming elections. Since the PLGA 2021 is in its final stages, it will not be hard for the PTI government in Punjab to make alterations in it.
At the national level also the federal government has asked the ECP to use machines to hold all next elections, including by-polls. The ECP meanwhile has said that it would be almost impossible to get the EVMs up and running in time for the general elections, and has also indicated that reliable, working, machines would need to be acquired from countries like Belgium or Brazil. The model presented in parliament by the government had been manufactured locally but the ECP has said that this model is not suitable for a general election and there's also doubt about how many machines the country can create and in what given period of time. To add to the complications, we have contrary treatments issued by ministers, with one saying that the funds for the election would not be given to the ECP if EVMs are not used while another minister clarifying that this was not a cabinet decision. In other words, we appear to have got ourselves into a tangle and created a controversy even before the time comes to cast the necessary ballots.
In the first place, we need to ascertain where the EVMs the government wishes to use are to come from and how the election is to be held. The same is true of the i-voting that is to be used for overseas Pakistanis. The ECP is of course an autonomous body, solely responsible for the conduct of elections. Going against its wishes would not be wise and could create further disharmony in the country. The opposition, meanwhile, seems not to be able to decide how to handle the matter. A working, harmonious, discussion between the government, the opposition and the ECP may well help settle the matter and lead us to a situation where polls can be held as fairly and without bias as possible, with or without EVMs. All important legislation – be it at federal or provincial level – needs to fulfil its democratic requirements that call for parliamentary consultation and incorporation of changes suggested by the opposition, and in this case by the ECP too. Any other way to legislate and enforce such laws will elicit reaction that will not be good for democracy in the country.