LAHORE: Technology has lessened human interference and labour in almost all spheres of life but it has become heavily politicised when it comes to politics.

A panel at Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest included Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of Pildat, Dr Taha Ali of NUST (Islamabad), and Rasheed Chaudhry of the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability to discuss whether technology could be used in Pakistani elections. Their answer was in the negative.

Mr Chaudhry put up several reasons for his anti-technology stance.

“Electronic voting machines (EVMs) are a popular but unrealistic demand,” he said.

“So far, no government has ever conducted a serious piloting of the EVMs as election technology is related to polls and the polls are political issues. So EVMs are a political issue.”

Certain parties believe that the EVMs are all problem-solving formulas, which is not true. Pakistani elections’ technological requirements were not specific, he said and added that though India and Brazil were regarded as examples of successful technological interventions in election, their needs were different. For example, India started using the EVMs only for counting ballots, Mr Chaudhry said.

“Pakistan’s problem is that here we want to first buy machines and later on, define rules to use them. This is an unwise approach. The fact is, so far, no serious discussion has ever been held at any forums, either within government quarters or among political parties.”

He stated that polls were about trust and that all the players, including the ECP and the government, had a trust deficit. He claimed that while voting machines could be cost-cutting, they could not develop or improve trust.

Taha Ali suggested that if political parties or the government were interested in the EVMs, they should modify election laws, identify needs and then enter the market. He said though poll automation started decades ago, the process was not very popular around the world. He said researchers found that machines could be manipulated and hacked.

Mr Ali said several western countries had adopted the EVMs but they were now all abandoning them. “Only four or five countries are using them seriously. The reason for giving up machines is the high cost.

“Poll machines need an ecosystem to keep them functional and in good shape. Their one-time buying starts a series of expenses, such as their maintenance and storage.”

Taha Ali said there were several types of EVMs and Pakistan was still unaware of its specific technology needs.

The session was moderated by Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of Pildat.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2023

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