ISLAMABAD: Rejecting as baseless the propaganda that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was opposed to the use of technology in the electoral exercise, polls watchdog head Sikandar Sultan Raja made it clear on Wednesday that no one should expect the implementation of the plan overnight.

“I challenge all the critics to show one instance where the ECP opposed electronic voting machines (EVMs) or voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, but there should be a procedure,” the chief election commissioner said while addressing a ceremony held to mark the national voters’ day.

CEC Raja said the ECP might conduct test trials of different types of EVMs in future by-elections and local government polls. He said a demonstration of suitable machines would be given to stakeholders and recommendations for legislation would be prepared before gradually introducing the machines all across the country.

He said the ECP was all for the use of technology but stressed that there must be a consensus among all stakeholders on the matter. He noted that EVMs should be “user-friendly and ensure secrecy of ballot”. He referred to the establishment of a ‘project management unit’ at the ECP in January this year to work on EVMs and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis, saying the commis-sion had not done so had it been averse to using technology.

Rules out polls on digital census in case final notification delayed

Highlighting the pitfalls of the introduction of technology in haste, he referred to his meeting with the Brazilian ambassador and quoted the envoy as saying that “it would be a miracle if the EVMs were used by Pakistan in the 2023 general elections”. Stressing that one must not be oblivious to the ground realities, the CEC noted that introducing the technology in haste could be counterproductive.

“EVMs cannot be introduced merely by chanting a slogan,” he remarked.

It may be recalled that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has been the strongest proponent of EVMs and I-voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad as he has repeatedly said that these measures could play an important role in checking rigging and ensuring maximum participation of overseas Pakistanis in the electoral exercise.

Mr Raja mentioned the steps needed in the introduction of EVMs, including the selection of machines that suit the country’s environment, their procurement, storage and transportation as well as training of the individuals involved, including the polling staff.

He emphasised that transparency in the electoral process was mandatory.

Digital census

The CEC made it clear that the upcoming general polls would have to be conducted on the basis of existing delimitation in case of a delay in the issuance of the final notification of the digital census.

Without naming anybody, Mr Raja said everyone was equal before the ECP “from the worker to the party head”, adding that the commission acts without any discrimination when the law is violated.

In an apparent reference to the foreign funding and Toshakhana cases against the PTI leadership, he said major decisions had been taken by the ECP. “We might have committed a mistake, but there was no mala fide intention [behind any decision],” he remarked.

He further said that decisions had been given without any pressure and had nothing to do with personal likes and dislikes. He mentioned that out of the total 51 by-polls held between 2021 and 2022, as many as 35 were won by the opposition, adding that this was proof of transparency in elections.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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