ISLAMABAD: Like the government and the opposition, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on Monday remained sharply divided on the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming elections, as the two sides got engaged in heated arguments on the issue.
Reports said as the opposition senators expressed serious reservations regarding the use of EVMs, the government side also insisted that it was the only way to stop rigging during the elections. The meeting started with briefing from the Ministry of Science and Technology on the usage of EVMs.
They said a detailed multimedia step-by-step presentation was given by the officials of the ministry that how it would work and the entire process as well as voting system with live demo of the EVMs.
The Committee members had raised various questions regarding efficacy and security of such system, and opposition members showed their reservations on the machines concept, while the meeting was chaired by the PPP’s Senator Taj Haider.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz and PML-N’s Senator Afnanullah had involved in a tug of arguments during the proceedings. At one point, Senator Afnanullah said, “I understand this machine”. To this, Shibli Faraz replied that “you are commenting without testing the machine, I would recommend you for awarding a medal of technology expert”.
Senator Afnanullah retorted saying he (Shibli) should get himself a medal. Shibli Faraz told the Committee that there would be a tender for the electronic voting machines, to which PPP’s Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said, if the tender had already been issued for the machines then why should we check this machine now? The minister replied that the opposition also had refused to test the machine, on which Mustafa Nawaz said if this machine was not to be used then why should it be tested? On a statement of the PPP’s lamaker, Shibli Faraz told him that you are younger than me, don't interfere my speech.
On this occasion, the PML-N’s senator once again said, “We have been sitting for this machine for three hours”, to which the federal minister replied that you are not doing any favour to me by doing so.
The meeting was told that there was no biometric identification system in EVM. The DG Information Technology ECP informed the committee that the electronic voting machine did not have a biometric identification system and could be disfunctionalised by inserting any glue in its buttons.
He said as many as eight reports were sent to the Parliament with regards to the EVMs, explaining the pilot project that there was a separate system of biometric and voting casting, while the EVMs had no biometric identification system.
Referring to the minister’s statement that the EVMs were a way to stop rigging, PPP’s Senator Farooq H Naek asked how the EVMs could identify and stop fake voters from voting. To this, the ministry officials said the voter could be identified by his thumbprint, identity card and face.
Senator Naek said there were many problems during the voting, even in the United States. But the ministry claimed that the machines, they had prepared, were better than the United States and other countries. While, Senator Nawaz Khokhar said the Election Commission has already expressed its concerns over the EVMs but Shibli contended that the electronic voting was the only way to avoid disputed elections. Senator Taj Haider said the committee would take a detailed look at the electronic voting machines.
Reports said it is the jurisdiction of Election Commission to procure machineries or necessary equipments and frame rules on its usage. The government should not indulge in procurement and manufacturing of such machines. Shibli Faraz responded that the government has been advocating for the EVMs in order to bring transparency during election process and to avoid unnecessary post-elections’ controversies. The PPP’s senator remarked that the Election Commission of Pakistan has termed induction of the EVMs as premature then why was the government infringing on the domain of the ECP.
PTI’s Senator Sania Nishtar said it was beyond the comprehension as why the introduction of modern technology in today’s age was being opposed at such a learned forum. Nishter said, “We need to evaluate what kind of issues can the EVMs really solve and how the modern technology can bring transparency during the elections, and we must give the technology a chance to prove”. The Committee’s chairman suggested that we should introduce technology in multiple phases and initially should only focus on biometric identification and verification of the voters. To which Shibli replied that both the systems should be deployed in order to ensure transparency.
The meeting was attended by Senator Azam Khan Swati, Sania Nishtar, Abida Mohammad Azeem, Hilal ur Rehman, Farooq H. Naek, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Syed Ali Zafar, Walid Iqbal, Sameena Mumtaz, special invitee Afnan ullah Khan, Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan, Minister for Science and Technology Syed Shibli Faraz, officials from Election Commission of Pakistan along with the chairman NADRA.
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