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Monday January 30, 2023

Debating the EVM

By Editorial Board
May 22, 2021

There can hardly be any disagreement on the basic premise of the need for improving our electoral system. In the 21st century, most functioning democracies in the world have overcome the hurdles in the way to holding fair and free elections. But the manner in which the current government is dealing with the issue by introducing the controversial electronic voting machines (EVMs) is not the right way to go about it. The same applies to the efforts to give voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. Though there may be some benefits of enfranchising overseas Pakistanis, the road has to be traversed with utmost care and circumspection.

The government appears determined that EVMs must become a part of the country's election system, in order, it says, to make it fairer and more transparent. It has already passed an ordinance authorising the ECP to purchase EVMs and enable overseas Pakistanis to vote. However, EVMs are a somewhat controversial matter. In some nations, they appear to have worked, and made voting more efficient and possibly more transparent. But in other nations, including India, and several Latin American countries, they have come under criticism. For this reason alone, it is necessary that the entire idea be debated in parliament, and a decision then taken incorporating the views of all parties so that there is no further controversy over the matter. We have already seen in the 2018 elections when the new result transmission system (RTS) generated a lot of ill will and the opposition cast apprehensions on its working. In a country where as simple a matter as Senate elections can be mishandled and even experienced and qualified parliamentarians get confused while casting their votes, the use of a new gadget by common people will be controversial, unless it has been tried and tested in several by-elections and the opposition reposes complete confidence in it. It is not only the parliamentarians but the people of Pakistan who need to have better information about this alteration in the system.

It is also disturbing that the PTI chooses to use ordinances instead of approaching parliament directly and going through the process necessary to put in place a new bill or a new rule of any kind. Such changes should not be the result of an ordinance or two; there have to be detailed debates about the merits and demerits of EVMs. As long as the opposition remains non-committal and people unfamiliar, such alterations are not advisable through the use of presidential ordinances that have almost become a fetish with the government. All reforms must come through a proper mechanism. A thorough dissection is called for in these matters. The countries where EVMs have worked properly have a fairly independent election process oversight – something Pakistan has as yet not experienced. The ECP must be directly involved in this discussion and ultimately it should be parliament that passes such reforms after getting recommendations from the ECP. We need full clarity and transparency, otherwise there is a danger that the proposals on election reforms and the manner in which they are carried out will only create more problems rather than solving those that already exist.

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