ISLAMABAD: Minister for Science and Technology Senator Shibli Faraz, accompanied by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and adviser to prime minister Shahzad Akbar, briefs the media on proposed election reforms outside the Election Commission on Monday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Minister for Science and Technology Senator Shibli Faraz, accompanied by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and adviser to prime minister Shahzad Akbar, briefs the media on proposed election reforms outside the Election Commission on Monday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The government and the opposition appear to be on a collision course over the plan to use technology in polls as the former declared that the 2023 general elections would be conducted ‘under a new mechanism’ while the latter accused the rulers of making attempts to rig the upcoming polls.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed on Monday that all arrangements for use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next elections had been completed.

He was talking to reporters after a government team held a meeting with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to discuss the introduction of EVMs and internet voting for overseas Pakistanis. The team, besides Fawad Chaudhry, comprised Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan and Adviser on Interior and Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar.

“We discussed the proposed legislation for electoral reforms, EVM, biometric system and internet voting,” the information minister said, adding that details of the proposed 49 amendments to the Elections Act (amendment) Bill, tabled in the National Assembly in October last year, were shared with the ECP.

PML-N accuses government of masterminding plan to rig next elections

He said it was decided that the minister for science and technology would present a demonstration on the EVM to the ECP and after that the commission could appoint internal experts or external consultants and the government would provide all possible assistance to the ECP.

Fawad Chaudhry said most of the rigging allegations came between closure of elections and announcement of results and the government wanted to address this problem by using technology.

About internet voting for overseas Pakistanis, he said around nine million eligible voters were residing outside Pakistan and recalled that giving them the right to vote was a key pre-poll promise made by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

He said the ECP had already received a report from a Spanish consultant on internet voting which was being examined by the commission.

Speaking on the occasion, Babar Awan said following the apex court’s directives over EVM and voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, the ECP had framed rules, but no law existed on electronic voting.

He said an ordinance had been promulgated authorising and binding the ECP to procure EVMs as well as enabling overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote in the next general elections while staying in their country of residence. “General elections 2023 will be contested on electronic voting.”

The prime minister’s adviser said the government would take the ordinance on electronic voting to parliament in the form of a bill. He said the government would welcome all positive suggestions from the stakeholders to reform the electoral process and would not be showing any rigidity.

Shibli Faraz said the science and technology ministry was working day and night to manufacture EVMs as per the ECP requirements. He said the local manufacturing process of EVMs would be completed within a few weeks.

The minister expressed the hope that the next elections would be conducted through EVM without any controversy as per the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He termed use of technology indispensable for ensuring free, transparent and credible elections in the country and said this would strengthen democracy and allow only those people to enter parliament who could represent the masses in true sense.

PML-N reaction

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurengzeb alleged that those who had rigged the 2018 elections were now planning to steal the 2023 polls under the cover of EVM. She said the PML-N would not discuss electoral reforms with those who had committed electoral fraud.

She sought an explanation from Prime Minister Imran Khan over a dozen secret accounts maintained by his party, which were discovered during the hearing of foreign funding case against the PTI.

In a related development, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on Monday deferred consideration of the Elections (amendment) Bill until PM’s adviser Babar Awan clarifies the government’s position on whether the rules bar the advisers from moving a bill in the house.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2021

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