By Shumaila Noreen
ISLAMABAD, Jan 23 (APP):Over the decades, electoral history of the country had been plagued with the charges of rigging and electoral frauds. May be it is bogus voting, electoral engineering, pre-poll rigging or tempering by the election or the polling staff, objection surfaced after each election.
Since, 1965 election of Ayub Khan era followed by 1973 elections and onwards, it was very rare that all parties had agreed with the results like other democracies of the world. Charges of rigging had been rampant after every election often leading to anti-government protests and campaigns.
This tendency of rigging charges had not only shattered the confidence of the voters bringing down the voters turnout but also often raised question on validity of the elected governments.
Respective government had been occasionally framing the laws to root out this menace but an overall sense of confidence on electoral process and rigging-free polls still remains a dream.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf had the same objection after 2018 polls when the PTI Chief Imran Khan had objected the results with a claim of rigging in 35 constituencies. The then government resisted his demand to open up results of at least four constituencies to ascertain whether the elections were transparent.
When the PTI came into power with Imran Khan as the Prime Minister, he had in front of him a gigantic task of laying down a system that ensures transparency of 2023 polls.
He floated the idea of technology driven innovations that had played a significant role in rapidly transforming the democracies globally during the last few decades and helped reshape the governance system. However, opposition parties opposed this idea.
The Prime Minister Imran Khan contested the opposition by commenting, “those who take advantage of corrupt systems are opposing the electronic voting machines (EVMs) because they do not want to see change and development in the country.”
In his recent statement at a ceremony in federal capital, he termed them a “mafia” who were shying away from holding elections through EVM system as he believed this system would close the doors of rigging for upcoming elections.
Adoption to a universally acknowledged way of conducting elections through Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) emerged as a mainstay to move towards flourishing democracy, empowering citizens and countering electoral frauds.
Prime Minister Imran Khan believes idea of using EVM would also work like his idea of introducing neutral umpire had worked and proved to be a turning point in the history of cricket, ending controversies and ensuring impartiality.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led government proved to be different and turned its slogan of `change’ into a reality through ensuring undisputed and fair elections.
The task of evolving an indigenous prototype of EVM was given to the Ministry of Science and Technology to resolve the longstanding issue of disputed and non-transparent elections.
“The target of developing the prototype of EVM was given on April 15. We accomplished this task just within three months on July 15. We have developed a prototype and given flawless demonstrations to the Prime Minister, President, Parliament, Chamber of Commerce, universities and masses,” Minister of Science and Technology, Shibli Faraz informed APP.
The joint session of the Parliament passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 regarding use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the month of November, last year. The passage of the amendments allowed the use of EVMs as well as granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
The legislation made it mandatory for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold elections through EVM. Soon after the legislation, ECP expressed its willingness to conduct upcoming local government elections through EVM, asking the Ministry of Science and Technology to provide EVMs for the purpose.
“Around 3,900 EVMs would be provided to the ECP before the upcoming LG elections in Islamabad, expected by the mid of April. A total of 3,100 EVMs were required for the LG elections in Islamabad however additional 800 EVMs would be provided as a backup,” Shibli Faraz said.
The machines will be developed by a company named Rapidev based in the National Science and Technology Park of National University of Science and Technology (NUST).
“Use of EVM technology in LG elections in Islamabad would be an opportunity for ground testing of this technology for the general elections and prove that conducting elections through EVM is possible”, the minister observed, saying that as per rough estimates Rs. 60 to 62 billion would be incurred on manufacturing of EVMs for General Elections 2023.
“Since the EVMs are not disposable and can be used in all kinds of elections like local government, bar council and other departments; the cost is justified,” he said.
Former Secretary of ECP, Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad said the project of EVM was under-consideration in ECP for the last 15 years but could not be implemented due to the unwillingness of the previous governments.
Since he was serving in the ECP, a lot of work on EVM was done but could not be carried forward due to the lack of seriousness of the then government. “EVM is the best solution to curb the electoral fraud and irregularities,” he believes.