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Pakistan

Senate body rejects govt's proposal to use EVMs in next election

  • Swati accuses ECP officials of taking bribes, rigging in polls
  • ECP officials walk out of the Senate Standing Committee meeting in protest after the allegations
10 Sep 2021

Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs has rejected a proposal by the government regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the next general election, Aaj News reported on Friday.

It dismissed the proposal by a majority during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs which was held to discuss the use of EVMs in the next general election.

During the meeting, Federal Minister Azam Swati levelled serious allegations against officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), saying its members take bribes and the commission should be excluded from the Constitution.

The minister maintained that the ECP has taken the parliament for granted. He stated a constitutional amendment should be carried out so that the government could have the power to hold the elections.

Next election to be held via EVMs: Shibli Faraz

Swati alleged that the ECP had been involved in rigging in past polls.

Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan said the government will not decide which mode of voting would be used. "This will be decided by the election commission," he said.

He pointed out that the job of the ECP is to conduct free and fair elections and none of the state institutions can raise objections on the right of the parliament to carry out legislation. "It is not wise for a state institution to show reservations on the EVM without any valid example."

Meanwhile, on Swati's accusations, ECP officials walked out of the meeting in protest. The opposition senators said that Swati cannot accuse a constitutional body of taking bribes, and asked the senator to provide proof to back his claim.

After the meeting was disrupted, Senator Farooq H Naek lashed out at Swati as well.

"Whenever the ECP tries to become independent, they [government] start to have a problem with it," added Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar.

The committee's chairperson also sent Senator Kamran Murtaza to convince the ECP officials to return to the meeting. However, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the ECP officials are deeply upset and would not return.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and Azam Swati also exchanged words, with the PPP senator asking the minister about the alleged bribe. "Azam Swati should tell us who paid bribes to the ECP?" he asked.

ECP's observations

The ECP has raised several objections on EVMs and i-voting mechanism.

The ECP said the time is too short for a large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and imparting training to a massive number of operators. It stated it is not advisable to introduce EVM nationwide in one go. It said the polls on one day as required under the law would be nearly impossible.

The ECP also referred to various other issues linked with the use of EVM, including lack of ballot secrecy, lack of capacity at all levels and lack of ensuring security and chain of custody for the machines at rest and during transportation.

It also pointed out that there would be no evidence available in case of an election dispute. The ECP noted that data integration and configuration issues may crop up due to court orders at the eleventh hour regarding a change in the ballot paper.

The commission said there is an absence of dust and humid-free controlled temperature environment warehouse for storage. It said technical operators needed to be trained while there is no consensus among the stakeholders on EVM which is also not financially feasible.

Govt describes ECP objections on EVMs as ‘one-sided’

The ECP said EVM could not prevent low voter turnout, low women’s turnout, misuse of state authority, election fraud, electronic ballot stuffing, vote buying, the law and order situation, dishonest polling staff, widespread political and electoral violence and abuse of state resources.

The commission observed that in case of introduction of the technology in haste, the conduct of free, fair, credible and transparent elections as per the Constitution is not possible. It pointed out that Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy and Finland had abandoned the use of EVM due to lack of security.

Govt rejects ECP stance

Earlier, in response to ECP's objections, Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz had said 27 of the 37 ECP observations had nothing to with EVMs or technology and are related to ECP’s capacity to handle EVMs. The remaining 10 observations are about EVMs, and the EVM machine prepared by MoST addresses all these observations, he said.

“The 27 observations—it’s for ECP to put its house in order and take steps to improve its capacity – government’s job is to do legislation – Parliament will make laws for EVMs so that 2023 general elections become the first completely free and fair general elections in the history of Pakistan with the use of technology.”

Faraz added that EVM is a concept — that is appreciated and opposed as well. He mentioned those who oppose it are the forces of the status quo that have stakes in this electoral system through which they have managed to win elections in the past.

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