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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Cabinet has constituted a five-member ministerial committee headed by Minister for Science and Technology, Senator Shibli Faraz to ensure sustainable liaison with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for use of EVM in next elections and I-voting, official sources told Business Recorder.

Other members of the committee are Minister for IT & Telecom, Minister for Railways, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs and Attorney General for Pakistan.

The Cabinet was informed that Amendments in Section 94 (I) and 103 in Election Act, 2017 had been passed through joint Session of the Parliament.

Section 94 (i) stipulates that Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or Rules made there under, the Commission shall, with the technical assistance of National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), any other authority or agency, enable overseas Pakistanis, in prescribed manner, subject to secrecy and security, exercise their right to vote during general election in Pakistan.

Section 103 Electronic Voting adds that Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or Rules made there under, the Commission shall, with the technical assistance of any authority, or agency, procure and use in prescribed manner, subject to secrecy and security, stand-alone Electronic Voting Machines in general elections in Pakistan.

The Cabinet was further informed that implications of new law would be as follows: (i) It had an overriding effect over other provisions of the Act and rules which was equivalent to saying that in-spite of those provisions, the above mentioned Sections would have a full force and operation;(ii) all existing provisions pertaining to the subject had become redundant; and (iii) new law was now binding on ECP meaning thereby that it had to ensure provision of right of vote to Overseas Pakistanis and use of EVMs in General Elections.

Election Commission of Pakistan, has noted that it was already amenable to the new Law because it had formally provided the following funding requirements for I-Voting and EVMs; (i) funds for EVMs Rs 56 billion (price as per RFP, 2017); (ii) funds for I-Voting Rs 2.40 billion; (iii) funds for data centre rupees 350 million; and (iv) funds for RMS/GIS rupees 500 million.

The way forward shared with the Cabinet, was that the Finance Division may provide funds required to implement the Law. Planning & Development Division may go ahead with the project of construction of ECP building on the land in H-8, Islamabad for data centre and EVMs warehouse. Election Commission of Pakistan may be requested for: (i) decision on EVMs and its specification; (ii) floating tenders as per PPRA Rules; (iii) give a formal go ahead to NADRA to carry on upgradation of the systems meant for consultant firm hired by MoIT on request of ECP; (iv) NADRA to complete the task within next four months by hiring requisite number of technical people and running round the clock shifts; and (v) a mass awareness campaign may be started for I-Voting (through MoFA - Embassies Abroad) and EVMs by Ministry of Information and ECP.

The Cabinet also decided to set up a special social media cell in Ministry of Information to disseminate information about I-Voting and EVMs and also to rebut objections of the mafia whereas Ministry of Housing and Works may be tasked to construct building of ECP in H-8, Islamabad.

During discussion, sustained engagement with the ECP was suggested to help in timely implementation of both the reforms, i.e. the use of EVMs and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis. The Prime Minister agreed to constitute a committee to keep a close liaison with the ECP for implementing these initiatives to ensure the next general elections were fair, transparent and inclusive. The Parliamentary Affairs Division will notify the committee and provide secretarial support.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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