Prime Minister Imran Khan is hell-bent on introducing the electronic voting system in the next general elections. Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), according to him, would put an end to complaints about rigging. In the first week of May, he initiated a stream of tweets arguing his case. In the second week of the month, a pliant President promulgated a controversial presidential ordinance authorizing as well as binding the ECP to procure EVMs and let overseas Pakistanis cast ballot through e-voting. In the third week of May, the PTI Government unveiled the prototype of an EVM at Parliament House. The Information Minister invited journalists and bar associations to come and use the machines to satisfy themselves about their accuracy.
Interestingly, the government officials who were keen to provide a demonstration of the prototype EVM to the ECP on Wednesday, asked for a delay in the demo till the third week of July. Obviously, something was wrong in the working of the prototype. As if this was not enough, in a second meeting held to discuss e-voting system for expatriate Pakistanis, the Spanish consultant firm told the ECP that Nadra’s system did not meet international standards and recommended technological changes to it. Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja has meanwhile called a meeting next week to deliberate on the report provided to the ECP by the Spanish consultancy firm.
After what was done by government functionaries during the by-elections in Daska, few would be swayed by the PM’s argument that his government was keen to hold free and fair elections, all the more so when countywide by-elections showed the government is losing everywhere. While EVMs can tally thousands of votes in minutes, these machines are notoriously poor at preventing fraud. In certain cases, machines are actually significantly more vulnerable to rigging than paper. What is more, rigging starts long before the elections when extraneous elements start changing loyalties through threats and promises of reward. Unless that interference is stopped, neither paper ballots nor EVMs can ensure free and fair elections.
There is a need for the ECP to hold consultations with all political parties to evolve a system ensuring transparency and then send it to Parliament to turn it into a new election law. Hasty decisions have to be avoided.