President Alvi allays opposition fears about EVMs

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Thursday attempted to mitigate fears of the opposition parties regarding potential misuse of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and rigging in the next general elections in 2023.

“Do not be afraid of a simple electronic voting machine that will help hold a fair election and bring an end to rigging. People will have to trust it. It is not very technical and is very convenient. A country progresses by adopting new things,” the president said while addressing a ceremony to sign the Election (Amendment) Bill 2021.

Passed by parliament, the bill provides for holding of the next general elections through the EVMs as well as granting the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis through I-voting.

President Alvi said the EVMs would ensure holding of a fair election, which had long been desired in Pakis­tan, as every election was followed by controversies and claims of rigging that also impacted the credibility of respective governments.

He said after their success in the upcoming elections, the EVMs would be marketed as a “product of Pakistan”.

Calling it a “great step”, the president said the legislation was made possible by the consistency of Prime Minister Imran Khan and hard work of his cabinet members despite massive resistance. The EVMs would enable taking a print-out of a vote on the spot instead of printing ballot papers and the technology will also end printing of extra ballots, he explained.

He claimed that people will easily understand the method to cast their vote through EVMs. “The voters will cast votes by touching the screen instead of stamping a ballot paper. The process is the same. What is the resistance for?” he questioned.

To achieve accurate results, Dr Alvi said, the votes would be counted through an in-built calculator though there was an option for manual counting also for the sceptics. He clarified the Ministry of Science and Technology did not manufacture the EVMs itself, but rather created a prototype for an experiment. The Election Commission of Pakistan would select the right EVM based on the required specifications, he stated.

Talking about I-voting for overseas Pakistanis, the president, while brushing aside the possibilities of hacking, quoted the 2018 data of digital transactions worth $5 trillion a day and said the chances of hacking were far lesser than a plane crashing. Due to multiple complications, in-person voting for the expatriates was not possible, he explained.

The president also said the countries that had rejected the EVMs already had better systems in place. On the contrary, Pakistan needed this technology owing to its system’s weakness. He added that EVMs would help eliminate the confusion caused by post-election rigging charges and bring about a strong government to support democracy.

“Don’t worry, the nation will be convinced [about the use of EVMs]. Following this, the country will make progress in other fields too,” the president remarked.

Earlier, Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz called the legislation a historic achievement, saying in the past, controversies around the fairness of elections begot political and economic instability besides confrontation in parliament.

He said following a 90-day deadline issued by the prime minister, the ministry got a prototype of an EVM manufactured through the National University of Sciences and Technology and experimented with it on multiple forums such as universities, chambers, and before the media.

The senator said it was now up to the ECP to choose the EVM based on polling requirements, though the commission had already formed three committees on the matter that would monitor the floating of an international tender.

Adviser to the PM on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan said the previous governments’ claims of holding free and fair elections were confined to slogans. The incumbent government was also trying to incorporate the use of EVMs in local government election laws of Islamabad as well as Punjab.

He said the EVMs were meant to minimise human involvement in elections that would also do away with the possibility of double stamping and rejection of votes. Asking the opposition not to be afraid of the technology, Mr Awan said the resistance to EVMs on the pretext of technology was irrational as over 186 million people were already using mobile phones in the country as well as social media.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021

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