By Fakhar Alam
PESHAWAR, Nov 28 (APP):A free, fair and transparent election provides equal opportunities to all eligible citizens to elect their representatives and give legitimacy to the political government to take decisions in the country and people’s interest.
Elections are free and transparent only when each step is open to scrutiny and stakeholders can independently verify whether the electoral process was conducted accurately, honestly and information relating to all stages of the electoral cycle is accessible to citizens, voters, candidates and political parties.
“A true democratic government, which comes into power through a free and transparent election, always enjoys the overwhelming support of the people. Democracy strengthens when elected representatives accountable to people, must return to voters after completion of five years constitutional term to take a fresh mandate through a free and transparent election process,” Dr. Abdul Rauf Khan, Chairman, Political Science Department, University of Peshawar told APP.
“Any political government that comes to power on the basis of a rigged and fraud election lacks masses’ support and hardly completes its constitutional term as its decisions are primarily interest-specific and unpopular,” he said. He said Pakistan has a long history where losing political parties and candidates leveled serious rigging agitations against winning parties, which often led to premature dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies, midterm elections and derailment of democracy.
Dr Rauf recalled that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government was overthrown after the nine religo-political parties of the joint opposition from the platform of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) had launched mass agitation movement, claiming electoral fraud and systematic vote’s rigging during general elections held on March 7, 1977.
The PNA had started the agitation movement after it bagged only 36 seats and PPP secured landslide victory with 155 seats, he said, adding one seat was won by PML (Qayyum) and eight seats clinched by independent candidates in the total 200 seats of the Parliament during 1977 election.
In spite of PPP’s strong denial of the rigging allegations, the PNA’s agitation movement sparked riots and unrest in the country after massive demonstrations and violent anti-Bhutto’s protests.
The civil society and bar associations also came on streets against an alleged electoral fraud and denounced the post-election policy of repression.
The poor law and order situation and rioting incurred about $765 million loss to the country’s economy while exports slashed by 35%, he said. Subsequently, democracy had been derailed for the third time in the country on July 5, 1977.
Dr Rauf said the elected governments of PPP and PML-N had been dismissed on allegations of corruption, poor governance, mismanagement and accusing of each others on involvement in votes rigging in elections held during 1988-1999.
Resultantly, no elected Prime Minister had completed its five years constitutional term despite the two-third majority secured twice by the PML-N.
The PTI had also expressed deep concerns over 2013 elections’ results and demanded opening of four constituencies for scrutiny and authentication of the ballot papers. The PTI’s mass mobilization movement had forced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to constitute a three-member inquiry commission of the Supreme Court to probe the votes rigging allegations.
On July 23, 2015, the commission headed by former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Nasirul Mulk had declared that polls were in large part “organized and conducted fairly and in accordance with the law.” The Commission had also ruled that PTI’s request for a probe was not “entirely unjustified.”
In order to bury the rigged tinted voting system and ensure free, fair and transparent elections in 2023, the PTI-led government had passed a historic legislation allowing the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and right to vote to overseas Pakistanis on November 17, 2021 that was widely appreciated.
Easa Khan, former Additional Advocate General KP said that EVM and right to vote to more than nine million overseas Pakistanis was a significant step in the country’s parliamentary and electoral history.
“The EVM would play the role of neutral umpire in the electoral process and prevent votes rigging in elections. Voting through EVM is doable in the wake of an inclusive database and latest technology used by NADRA,” he said.
The EVMs would increase voters’ turnout, especially when internet voting is involved, make votes counting faster and deliver election results quicker, enhance stakeholders’ trust in elections’ results and minimize the waste of ballot papers.
Esa Khan said that ECP was now constitutionally bound to conduct 2023 elections through EVM and give right to vote to overseas Pakistanis. The EVM is necessitated after around 1.5 million votes were rejected in 2018 elections, he said, adding that Election Commission of Pakistan in 2008 and a Judicial Commission in 2015 had recommended these machines to do away an unlawful practice of fake and unverified votes.
He said over nine million Pakistanis were living abroad by sending $30 billion remittances and giving right to vote to them provided through the November 17th historic legislation, would not only enhance their self-prestige and love for Pakistan but enable them to keep a close check on government and include them in decisions-making.
Dr Abdul Rauf said that EVM was not a new thing as it was being used in many countries including India, US, Estonia, Brazil, Namibia, Philippines, Norway, Switzerland, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Belgium, Iran, Argentina, France, Bangladesh and Russia during elections.
He said, “Technology has changed the world altogether and adaptation of modern technology in elections would ensure transparency and speedy conclusion of the voting process. It is an accurate time to switch to EVM and online voting to make the polling process rigged free.”
In Pakistan, he said around 184 million people used mobile phones and 120 million registered voters, who could easily poll their votes through EVMs.
Following the November 17th landmark legislation by the Parliament, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had formed three committees to calculate expenditure of EVMs, amend existing rules and regulations for its effective use in line with the new legislation.
The ECP, through a letter, has asked the federal government to grant funds for procurement of about 8,00,000 EVMs, a warehouse for its storage, premises for data and control centers, modern lab, printing and training.
The ECP has asked the Ministry of Housing and Works to take swift measures for construction of a building and two floors at Kohsar block for EVMs. Planning Commission has been requested to quickly release funds for construction of the required premises in Sector H-11, Islamabad.
Kanwar Dilshad, former Secretary ECP told the news agency that EVM and right to vote for overseas Pakistani was an important legislation, adding that EVM was likely to be used on experimental basis in some constituencies mostly in big cities in 2023 elections. “The entire polling process on EVMs seems impossible as less than two years were left in 2023 general elections,” he added.
He said, “EVM has remained successful in India after taking a lot of years and would take time to become fully operational in Pakistan.”
Kinwar Dilshad said about Rs two trillion would be required for replacing the entire manual voting system with digital voting procedures, purchase of over 800,000 EVMs, biometric verification machines or Internet voting system for overseas Pakistani.
He expressed the hope that all concerns of ECP pertaining to secrecy of ballot papers and voters, hacking and tampering of software of EVMs/internet voting system would be addressed and all financial demands of the Election Commission to be fulfilled imperative for smooth operation of EVM and right to vote to overseas Pakistanis.
Kamran Bangash, Provincial Minister for Information and Higher Education said that EVM and right to vote to overseas Pakistani was a real positive change brought by the incumbent government and completion of yet another promise made by Prime Minister Imran Khan with overseas Pakistani. He said the EVM’s legislation has ended the rigged tinted voting system and now no one would be able to raise fingers on election results.