Soon after the ECP submitted a report to the Senate raising serious questions about the feasibility of holding the next elections with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), a federal minister accused it of taking bribes to rig the polls and suggested that such institutions should be set on fire. Another minister accused the Commission of acting as Opposition’s mouthpiece. Both were served notices by the ECP. This failed however to produce a moderating effect as attempts continued to browbeat the Commission in general and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC)in particular. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry even prodded the Commission members to confront the CEC.
The ECP report presented to the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs raised 37 objections to the introduction of EVMs in the next elections. The Committee was told that the ECP was in favour of technology but it has to be secure and tested and must not be introduced in undue haste. Major objections included time being too short for a large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and imparting training to a massive number of operators. It was also pointed out that with EVMs there would be no evidence available in case of election disputes. The EVMs could not prevent low voter turnout, misuse of state authority, election fraud, electronic ballot stuffing, vote buying, dishonesty on the part of polling staff and electoral violence.
The best way out for the govt would have been to agree to the introduction of EVMs in stages to ensure that any possible failures are removed and public confidence established in technology. The insistence that the system be introduced immediately without trial strengthens the opposition’s suspicions of electronic foul play. The vicious attack on the CEC looks like a continuation of the offensive against opposition and independent media. The ECP, which has to make lengthy preparations for the elections, including Local Govt polls, is now being required to defend itself.
The attack on ECP has brought almost the entire opposition together on the issue. There is a need on the part of saner elements in the PTI and its allies to advise the PM to rein in his ministers who instead of arguing their case tend to jump the gun considering offense as the best defence irrespective of its divisive fallout on the country.