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EDITORIAL: The government will not fund elections sans electronic voting machines. The message was conveyed to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) through the media on Tuesday by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry after a federal cabinet meeting.

“The cabinet was of the view that following (the) legislation on electoral reforms the ECP was bound to hold the next general election through the EVMs [Electronic Voting Machines],” the minister said, adding: “If elections are not conducted through EVMs the government might not be able to fund them”.

Subsequently, it transpired that in fact there was no such decision by the federal cabinet as Shibli Faraz, the minister for Science and Technology, revealed that this issue was part of the casual chit-chat during a break in the cabinet meeting because the prime minister had left the meeting to offer Zuhr prayers. The information minister is therefore required to answer what had actually prompted him to say what he did say.

The ECP is constitutionally mandated to conduct elections. The constitution stipulates that “It shall be the duty of Election Commission in relation to an election to organise and conduct the election and to make arrangements as necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law”.

The ECP has already set up a committee which will give its opinion whether it would allow the use of EVMs and the election commission has also stoutly rejected the government’s “intimidation and pressure” to process a rush purchase order for EVMs. And in this wrangle between the government and the ECP, the opposition supports the latter.

In a statement released after the information minister’s briefing, PPP senator Saleem Mandviwalla, for example, said the government decision to block funds to ECP is a “direct threat” and interference in the powers of the commission, which is an independent organisation under the Constitution. EVMs are in use in a number of countries. It is, however, important to note that many countries have banned EVMs since they can rig elections. As for its use in Pakistan, it has to be evaluated in the light of a number of factors.

Firstly, with nearly half of the voters in the country being illiterate and unfamiliar with the use of electronic gadgets there is every possibility that their inadequacy would be exploited by interested parties. Secondly, the cost involved in purchase, maintenance and storage is huge, and may be unaffordable in view of our ongoing economic woes.

Since the elections to National Assembly and provincial assemblies have to be conducted the same day the ECP would need about 800,000 EVMs, which will cost the national kitty something like Rs 250 billion. Thirdly, there is no guarantee that these machines would not be tampered with. Nadra’s (National Database and Registration Authority’s) failure to transmit results of last general election in time ‘due to a machine failure’ is a strong case in point. Fourthly, since the political opposition in the country is not agreeable to use of EVMs it will not accept defeat if it loses the elections. Rightly then the use of electronic voting machines is questionable.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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