Conundrums over EVMs
THERE have been alleged rigging charges in almost all elections for long. Sadly, the winner blows the trumpet of elections to be fair and square—only to cry foul once it loses afterwards.
To grapple with this problem, the PTI-led government has introduced Electronic Voting Machines, which are hailed as a panacea for all ills of elections, but the opposition called these machines a recipe of massive riggings in the 2023 election. Of course, technology should be at our disposal to stave off any irregularity in election, however there has to be cost-and-benefit calculation as well.
In other words, while resorting to EVMs seems a noble deed, the question is whether Pakistan is ready to make this paradigm shift now.
Despite all the purported benefits, EVMs carry various drawbacks too. For a start, the cost of EVMs, according to the Election Commission experts, is a whopping amount of 430 billion rupees, which, given Pakistan’s macro-economic health, is unsustainable. For the record, the cost of 2018 election was less than 25 billion rupees.
Crippled with all-time high inflation, uncontrollable exchange rate, depleting reserves, pouring hundreds of billions will never bode well for the country. Another issue with EVMs comes from the manufacturing of these machines.
Although NUST coupled with some Chinese companies has offered their services, it is yet to be seen what comes out of it. But nevertheless, EVMs will definitely increase import bills due to importable parts of the machine, experts on EVMs state.
Training almost 150 million voters to use EVMs also casts a shadow on the viability of the whole process.
While 10 million Pakistani expatriates may learn to use EVMs, it seems impossible domestically because even our Senators failed to cast their votes properly in the last Senate election, let alone 40 percent illiterate people can use these alien machines.
If we believe the government’s plans, there will be almost a ninety thousand EVMs, and the election will be held on the same day, which is unprecedented even at the global level.
Not only does such an endeavor provide menace on security fronts, but it can also trigger other controversies and jeopardize the whole democratic process.
There are countries which also use EVMs: India is one example. India didn’t supplant the traditional voting process with EVMs altogether but rather integrated the latter step by step.
In fact, India has introduced EVMs decades ago, yet it still carries out the old way of voting in most parts of the country where EVMs do not suit.
In spite of all flaws in Indian democracy, protests over election riggings have never been the mainstay of Indian politics. Therfore, election rigging is more than just the way it is conducted.
All in all, Pakistan should definitely resort to EVMs after they are tested and become reliable.
Step-by-step introduction may help, i.e. some pilot projects can be introduced to see the result of the electronic voting.
If it goes well, EVMs can replace the entire paper-based voting system. As regards the upcoming election, selecting a few constituencies for EVMs will be economically viable as well as an experimental project.
Today, economy is in a shambles and any pressure on it can backfire. There are dangerous projections as Mr. Zaidi said that Pakistan was on the verge of “bankruptcy”.
Last but not the least, even if this government forcefully carries out this herculean task, the result will be unending protests.
The losing parties will be on roads and the rest is anyone’s guess. EVMs’ idea needs much debate and deliberatipns in parliament in which the government should convince that its intentions are only to conduct free-and-fair elections—nothing else.
Failure in acting prudently will give credence to the opposition’s stance because even the Election Commission of Pakistan has been reluctant to use EVMs owing to thirty different issues with these machines.
It is a fact that democracy is messy, yet it is still the best system at hand. Rather than passing ordinance after ordinance, the PTI-led government should discuss all outstanding issues including EVMs on the floor of Parliament. This is the only way forward for a better, forward-looking and democratic Pakistan.
—The writer is Lecturer and editor of PIMHRC.