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Islamabad: Amidst escalated hostility between the federal government and ECP over EVMs, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) has refused to share with the electoral body the crucial technical details related to EVMs, saying the required details could only be shared at a later stage.

In response to the 37 observations regarding Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) raised by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), a MoST team submitted its reports to ECP’s Technical Evaluation Committee on Wednesday.

The MoST team declined providing the source code and schematic or preliminary design of the EVMs prepared by the ministry, Business Recorder has learnt.

The MoST team reportedly took the stance that sharing the source codes and schematic designs of EVMs would trigger the chances of their theft and piracy.

The ministry officials told the ECP officials that the crucial information regarding EVMs would be shared only after agreements with some technical firms related to EVMs were finalised, it is further learnt.

The ministry, however, shared with the commission the details of software, hardware, data storage, transmission and battery—related to EVMs.

On September 7, the ECP had submitted a report in the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs containing 37 ‘objections’ to EVMs.

The ECP raised its objections to ECP before the first meeting of its Technical Evaluation Committee that took place on September 8.

Electronic Voting Machines: IHC to take up petition seeking directions for ECP

Before this meeting, without considering the technical input by the committee, the ECP submitted one-sided objections in the Senate panel, Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz told a presser, then.

“It’s like— the result was out before the exam was held,” he said.

He said 27 of the 37 ECP observations had nothing to with EVMs or technology and were related to ECP’s capacity to handle EVMs. The remaining 10 observations were about EVMs, and the EVM machine prepared by MoST addressed all these observations.

“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 said.

Later, on September 10, the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs had a tumultuous session with the treasury members having categorically expressed their displeasure with ECP for repeatedly opposing the federal government’s efforts to launch EVMs, which, the government says, aim at bringing transparency in electoral process.

“This ECP is good for nothing—it always rigged polls—it took bribes for that purpose—such institutions should be set ablaze,” Railways Minister Azam Swati said in a hard-hitting tirade against the ECP that has come under wide public criticism for opposing introduction of EVMs.

Seemingly embarrassed by the minister’s unexpected verbal offensive, the ECP officials walked out of the committee proceedings.

Chief Election Commissioner acting as 'mouthpiece' of opposition: Fawad

Later, treasury members led by Swati staged a walkout against Committee Chairman Taj Haider from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for not allowing newly inducted committee member Samina Mumtaz Zehri from Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) to take part in voting on EVMs through videoconferencing.

After the treasury members walked out, Haider proceeded to hold voting on proposed amendments related to EVMs in the absence of treasury members. The opposition members participated in the voting to reject proposed amendments in the Elections Act 2017 [Elections (Amendment) Bill 2021] that allowed EVMs and internet-voting (i-voting – for overseas Pakistanis) in general elections.

Later in the day, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja of acting as a “mouthpiece for the opposition.”

On Tuesday, the ECP announced to initiate action against Swati and Chaudhry.

Meanwhile, a delegation of PPP and Awami National Party (ANP) met the CEC during their visit to ECP to express ‘solidarity’ with the commission. The delegation comprised of Naiyyar Hussain Bukhari, Sherry Rehman and others. They told the media after the meeting that the CEC’s stance on EVMs was “based on law and principles” and that opposition parties supported it.

However, veteran PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan said in a talk show that CEC Raja had close ties with Sharif family and that he should not be part of proceedings against the two federal ministers. If Raja dissociates himself from the proceedings against the ministers, the ECP’s formation would not be incomplete—leaving behind only two members—which means that an incomplete ECP would not be able to take action against any minister, Ahsan said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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