ISLAMABAD: Once bitten, twice shy; it seems this adage applies to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), which is still smarting from the embarrassment it had to face after its Result Transmission System (RTS) — the software it developed to relay election results — purportedly “malfunctioned” on the night of the 2018 general elections, prompting widespread rigging allegations.

Exactly why the RTS system came to a standstill at a time when results had started to pour in, still remains a mystery. At the time, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had to revert to the traditional method of counting votes in the absence of the transmission system.

In order to avoid a similar situation this time, Nadra has decided to distance itself from any direct involvement in the electoral exercise and extricate itself from any possible role on polling day.

Nadra Chairperson Tariq Malik confirmed this development while speaking to Dawn. “The management of elections is not a job of Nadra as it is the mandate of the ECP,” he said, adding that Nadra should not be “involved in the transmission or management of the election results”.

Invites political parties’ input on issue of electoral rolls

According to the Nadra chief, the authority would “focus on aiding the ECP in registration of votes as per the Election Act”.

The decision to stay away from the elections came in response to a proposal floated by ECP, seeking help from Nadra in managing results on election day. The commission had floated a request for proposal (RFP) for ‘ePass’ seeking the services to manage the Result Management System (RMS) and RTS, among other deliverables as digital tools to support the electoral process.

Consultation with political parties

Separately, Mr Malik has also invited representatives of at least 150 political parties to the authority’s headquarters for an interactive discussion – an Open House Session on Electoral Rolls – on its ongoing technical support to the ECP for the preparation of final electoral rolls for the elections.

Sources said the idea was floated to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, who supported the initiative and agreed to send a representative as well.

“To achieve a greater level of transparency, Nadra intends to open its doors to all political parties. A full-day dedicated session is planned for each political party interested in participating. During these sessions, Nadra will also respond to specific queries and concerns if raised by political stakeholders,” identical letters written to political parties read.

The parties have been asked to convey a suitable date and list of participants so requisite arrangements to conduct interactive sessions could be made post-Eid.

According to the letter, multiple general elections, local bodies elections (LBEs) and by-elections had been conducted on the basis of electoral rolls prepared in 2017. The current LG polls and by-elections are also being conducted on the said electoral rolls; however, the finalisation of electoral rolls to be used in 2023 general elections is underway, it added.

According to the letter, technical and operational support being provided by Nadra to the ECP included the provision of data of newly-issued CNICs along with the supply of CNIC data of deceased persons.

As per the letter, Nadra also provides address change data, and implements business rules as approved by ECP in addition to printing and transporting electoral rolls to district election commissioners’ offices and hosting of the voter SMS service.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2022

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