A debate has been going on in the country whether the next election should be held with EVM or under the old ballot paper system. The PTI government is involved in an unseemly controversy with the Election Commission on the issue of electronic voting machine, EVM. The government has been insisting that it will conduct the 2023 elections on the basis of electronic voting machine which it has got prepared by its experts. But the Election Commission has rejected the government approved EVM saying that it was not safe and further that it is too expensive.
The government faced a difficult situation when the EC issued notices to two federal ministers, Fawad Chaudhry and Azam Khan Swati for uncharitable remarks against the commission. After the issuance of notices, federal science and technology minister ShibliFaraz admitted that it is the right of the EC to use electronic voting machine or not and that the commission has to decide which EVM it will use.
It may be added here that for the sake of electoral reforms the government has constituted a parliamentary committee comprising members both from the treasury and opposition sides. In the government-proposed Election Act 2017 the provision about EVM has proved the most controversial. On its part the Election Commission has raised 45 objections to the amendments in the Election Act 2017.
On 10 Sep 2021, the Senate standing committee on parliamentary affairs in its meeting rejected the proposal to use EVM and to give the right of vote to overseas Pakistani. Reacting to this, Federal Railway Minister and PTI senior vice president Azam Khan Swati accused the Election Commission of taking bribes. He also said that such organizations should be set on fire. At this the EC members walked out of the meeting. Later, federal information minister Fawad Chaudhry called the EC the “opposition commission”. He also demanded that Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja should resign.
The Election Commission of Pakistan is a constitutional body whose chief is appointed with the mutual consultation of the government and opposition. But the PTI leadership did not take any action against the improper comments of the federal minister although the CEC and other members of commission were appointed during the PTI government.
It may be recalled here when in Aug 2019, the government appointed two members of EC, the then chief election commissioner had refused to administer oath of office to them following which the government issued a presidential ordinance which was rejected by Islamabad High Court. Now the PTI government on the basis of its majority has decided to amend Election Act 2017 and hold the 2023 election with EVM.
FAFEN has identified several legal loopholes in the EVM and E-voting bill. It has also recommended that any change in the election system should be done in consultation with all stakeholders. FAFEN has advised the government to not leave the political decision to the election commission because it will affect the credibility of the elections. PILDAT and other experts have also supported the stand of the election commission on EVM issue. In their view, the EVM is not tamper-proof and such a big decision should not be taken in haste. Last time the Result Transmission System had failed which raised questions about the credibility of 2018 election results.
About 70 countries in the world initially used the EVM but later abandoned it because of its many glitches. At present three countries, the Philippines, Brazil, and India are using EVM. It took India ten years to streamline the use of EVM and yet objections are raised in India after every election.
As things stand, all opposition parties are against the use of EVM. PML(N), PPP, and Awami National Party have described the EVM as a rigging machine. MaulanaFazalurRehman has said that he will boycott the next elections if held on the basis of EVM. Jamat-e-Islami has taken the stand that the issue of EVM should be discussed and a solution found through the consultation of all parties.
In the eyes of experts, if the government does not evolve a consensus on the issue of EVM, the election results will lose credibility which will be detrimental to democracy. If the PTI government goes ahead with its one sided decision, it will not be good for the political system in the country. The best course will be for the government to sit down with the opposition parties and finalize the electoral reforms package which should be approved by both houses of parliament. This is important to ensure that the next election is free from any shadow of rigging and other charges.