The government is relying on underhand methods to sanctify voting through EVMs and I-voting in the 2023 elections. It got election-related laws passed in the National Assembly without discussion and in the absence of the opposition from the House. A pliable Senate Chairman barred the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs from summoning government officials or civil society representatives for briefing the Committee on the feasibility of the government’s plan without his prior approval. He also moved a vocal PPP lawmaker to another committee without his consent. Chairman Sanjrani had to cancel the moves however under unrelenting pressure from the opposition. Undeterred, the Senate Chairman has now tipped the balance in the governments’ favour by adding a ruling alliance Senator to the Committee.
The briefing provided to the Senate Committee by four independent bodies and persons on Tuesday underlined serious flaws in the use of EVMs and I-voting in the next elections.
The Election Commission of Pakistan placed a document before the committee that raised as many as 37 objections. It warned that the machines were tampering-prone and their software could easily be altered. It raised damaging questions about ensuring the security and chain of custody for the machines at rest and during transportation. It was maintained that the time was too short for a large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and providing training to a massive number of operators required to handle them. Another serious weakness in the system was that there would be no evidence available in case of election disputes. PILDAT President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) Representative as well as former ECP Secretary Kanwar Dilshad supported the objections while adding more to them.
The only sensible way for the government would be to abandon the idea of relying on the new technology in the 2023 elections. It can however test it in by-elections or local body elections, after consultations with the opposition, to familiarize the voters with the new system and to remove any possible glitches.
An insistence by the government on EVMs and i-voting despite serious objections by independent and knowledgeable persons would convince the opposition that the government is bent upon stealing the elections. This will lead to a prolonged confrontation lasting till 2023 which the country can ill afford.