ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) appears to be divided on the perceived threat to security of electoral rolls amidst Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) hue and cry over publication of age-and religion-wise voters’ statistics and the party’s announcement to file a reference against National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) chairman Usman Yusuf Mobeen.

The controversy emerged after the recently removed Nadra deputy chairman, Syed Muzaffar Ali, during a TV talk show played up a letter written by the ECP to the Nadra chairman over the ‘leak’ of generalised statistics of voters last month, just as the commission had done in the 2013 general elections without having received any complaint from the quarters concerned.

The letter refers to the June 2011 contract between the ECP and Nadra, which entrusted the latter with the preparation and maintenance of electoral rolls for conduct of elections where Nadra will act as a faithful service provider to the ECP and is at all times supposed to support and safeguard ECP’s legitimate interests.

“However the competent authority has observed with great concern that there exists a potential threat to the security of data relating to computerised electoral rolls system (CERS). Apropos to the article/report published on 25.05.2018 and 28.05.2018 in the daily newspaper ‘DAWN’, showing that there are insiders who have crept into the system and provided the information to outsiders. It may be noted that the said report was desired by this Commission, but on the contrary, the report was shared with non-recipients before it reached to this Commission, thus raised eyebrows,” the letter written by the ECP to Nadra reads.

Letter sent to Nadra last month has nothing to do with PTI’s allegations: ECP

The letter said the commission also supported the apprehensions that other data related to voters might also have been shared with unauthorised hands when such detailed reports were being shared.

Some ECP officials in background interviews candidly shared with Dawn that the electoral rolls section comprising only two individuals appeared to have misled the commission, because the electoral data was no more a confidential or secret document after the passage of Elections Act on Oct 2, 2017.

One of the officials referred to Section 79(3) of the Elections Act that reads “On the application of a candidate or his election agent, the district election commissioner or any officer authorised on his behalf by the Commission shall provide to a candidate or an election agent a hard and searchable soft copy on universal serial bus (USB) in portable document format (PDF) or any other tamper-proof format of the final electoral roll with photographs of the voters and shall ensure that the copy is the same as provided to the Returning Officer and Presiding Officers”.

Another official said the age- and religion-wise data of voters had even been placed on ECP website prior to 2013 general elections, while an update on the same had been shared with the media by the ECP itself even a couple of months ago.

In reply to a question, he agreed that Nadra, too, under the freedom of information law was supposed to share with any individual gender wise-CNIC holders’ data, with age bracket and religion, as well as details of electoral rolls which could be used to ascertain the age and religion-wise number of voters.

A spokesman for Nadra in a statement said Nadra had not leaked electoral rolls data to any political party and rejected the allegation of rigging being hurled on Nadra as baseless.

He said Nadra had a limited role in the elections and was just providing technical assistance to the ECP.

A spokesman for the ECP dispelled the impression being given by some TV channels that the ECP on an application filed by the PTI had sought explanation from Nadra.

He said the ECP had so far not received any application from the PTI against Nadra. He said the letter written on May 29 by the ECP had nothing to do with the PTI.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2018

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