A positive change in government-ECP relations

But how long will it last?

Last week, the PM had wondered why the Election Commission of Pakistan opposed the electronic voting machines (EVMs) as they ensure transparency and it was the job of the ECP to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections. He ridiculed the reasons given by the ECP officials. In September, while supporting the use of modern technology in elections, the ECP had raised 37 objections to the introduction of EVMs in the forthcoming elections. What has reportedly changed the situation is the realization among some of the PTI leaders that the government needs to move forward in consultation with the ECP rather than confronting it. The government panel on ECP appointments has been reconstituted, with Federal Minister Azam Swati replaced by Senator Kamil Ali Agha. After the government managed to bulldoze amendments to the Elections Act 2017 in the joint session of Parliament, allowing the use of electronic voting machines and granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, the ECP too decided to prepare comprehensive recommendations on EVMs and on providing expatriates the right to vote.

The ECP has had major reservations about EVMs that include their being tampering-prone and their software easily alterable. The Commission also believes the time is too short for a large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and imparting training to a massive number of operators. Further, that it was not advisable to introduce EVMs nationwide in one go. The polls on one day as required under the law would be nearly impossible if EVMs were introduced. What the ECP aims at is to provide answers to the problems caused by the required amendment in the laws. This could lead to talks between the government and the ECP to resolve the differences in the light of the recommendations.

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The ECP has appointed committees to provide suggestions to deal with issues like storage of EVMs, and voting procedure for overseas Pakistanis, besides running the pilot testing of the machines and the mechanism for their use. It would identify the best global practices, calculate expenditure and suggest changes in the rules.

It is too early to predict whether the government and the ECP will succeed in jointly resolving the issues related to the use of EVMs. In case of the government insisting on any issue that violates the Constitution, the matter is likely to be taken up by the Supreme Court.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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