Monday February 06, 2023

ECP unlikely to deploy EVMs for ‘October elections’

The EVMs and I-voting require repeated pilot projects, trials and tests which even if expedited can at least continue for four to five months

April 18, 2022
ECP unlikely to deploy EVMs for ‘October elections’

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is on track towards making the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and I-Voting technology but foresees no possibility of being able to incorporate them in the general election likely in October this year.

Despite amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, which were adopted in the joint session of the parliament in November last year, allowing the use of electronic voting machines and granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis as well, there are serious issues that need to be addressed before the technology could be deployed.

It was established in several background interactions with the ECP officials and related experts that the electoral body is prepared to cut down the manual element from the electoral process but there are several challenges before taking the plunge. One of them is the elaborate and time-consuming selection process of the technology. 

The EVMs and I-voting require repeated pilot projects, trials and tests which even if expedited can at least continue for four to five months. Besides at least another five to six months are required in the lengthy and intricate process of acquiring the machines through internal/international tendering, they said. But these technological gadgets are neither available in bulk i.e.700,000-800,000 (EVMs alone) nor they could be procured straight away from the global markets, even if found.

Apart from the procedural issues, a critical test lies in gaining confidence of the larger public, political parties and other stakeholders in accepting the technological shift. The issue becomes challenging in the context of larger electorate falling in the rural areas. 

This in particular requires better understanding and awareness to the voters and imparting training to larger number of polling staff. More than half of Pakistan’s over 220 million population is eligible for voting and switching them to the new technology would not be a piece of cake, they said and warned Pakistan could not afford controversy in elections. Furthermore, the technology/machines would need to be designed and developed according to the ground realities of the urban-rural divide. While on one end, we have developed cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, we also have Waziristan, far-flung districts of Balochistan and remote parts of Sindh and Punjab, on the other.

It was learnt that while presiding over a meeting on April 13, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja directed continuing with the related measures like in the past, and underlined that the ‘mission’ of increasing vital use of technology would remain their top priority. “Even if the incumbent government opted for undoing the related laws, we will not budge on our commitment to continuing work on EVMs and I-Voting for the overseas Pakistanis,” another senior official of the Election Commission was quoted as saying. The ECP sources said the Election Commission has already established the Project Management Unit early this year and inducted professionals, who are busy in streamlining the processes of EVMs and I-Voting.

Under Article 218, holding free, fair and transparent elections is the responsibility of the Election Commission requiring meticulous management to pave way for inducting EVMs. But this does not seem to be a possible even if the next election is held early next year. It goes without saying the electoral body must also be satisfied to be able to deal with any shortcomings and deficiencies pinpointed in the EVMs, like the lack of secrecy and transparency and protecting the voters’ rights.

Against this backdrop, it looks highly improbable of making use of machines in the local government elections in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, considering the multiple challenges that need to be surmounted before opting for them.