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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Government and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) are still unwilling to accept each other’s view on the proposed use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the procedure for I-voting as a key minister has expressed his reservations on the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of ECP technical committee headed by Secretary ECP, well informed sources told Business Recorder.

The Federal Cabinet, in its meeting held on November 30, 2021 presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan approved timelines from procurement to use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), and campaign for I-voting through embassies abroad without taking the ECP on board, the sources added.

Giving the cabinet weekly update on the use of EVMs and I-voting for Overseas Pakistanis, the Minister for science & Technology, Senator Syed Shibli Faraz apprised that the ECP had constituted a Technical Committee under its Secretary. However, he expressed reservations on the ToRs of the Committee, which included determining the feasibility and possibility of using EVMs in the next General Elections.

As Convener of the Committee constituted by the Cabinet to support the ECP in implementing the electoral reforms of introducing EVMs and I-voting for Overseas Pakistanis, he proposed the following timelines for the main activities needed to be carried out:

(i) finalization of technical specifications by December 15, 2021;(ii) floating of Request for Proposal - January 1, 2022 ;(iii) award of contract- April1, 2022;(iv) start delivery of machines - June 15, 2022; hands-on training to the operational staff - June 15, 2022 onwards;(v) storage of machines and its data - December 1, 2022 onwards; and (vi) completion of machine delivery-June 15, 2023.

In order for ECP to timely complete the above activities, following support actions by the Ministries/ Divisions were identified: (i) Finance Division to provide required funds; (ii) Planning & Development Division to go ahead with the project of construction of ECP building on the land in H-8, Islamabad for data centre and EVMs warehouse;(iii) a mass awareness campaign may be started for I-Voting (through Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) -Embassies Abroad, and EVMs by Ministry of Information; (iv) NADRA to complete its system upgradation for I-voting, within four months; and (v) Ministry of Housing and Works to construct building of ECP in H-8, Islamabad.

The members argued that gauging feasibility of introducing EVMs and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis at this point in time was unwarranted. The amendments in Section 94 (1) and 103 in Elections Act, 2017, bind ECP to ensure provision of right of vote to Overseas Pakistanis and use of EVMs in General Elections. It was also pointed out that the legislative changes make it incumbent upon the government, as well, to release funds only if the next elections were being held as per the new law.

The members exhorted that the presented timelines must be followed in order to ensure next General Elections were fair, transparent and inclusive. All the concerned Ministries / Divisions needed to timely complete the actions required on their part.

After detailed discussion, the timelines suggested by the Minister for Science and Technology as Convener of the Committee the Committee were approved and it was directed to support ECP in implementing the electoral reforms of introducing EVMs and I-voting for Overseas Pakistani, and to suggest the timelines prepared by the Minister for Science and Technology.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Fawad Hussain, addressing a post Federal Cabinet meeting recently had indicated that ECP’s funding may be stopped if elections are not held as per the approved law.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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