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Is the plan to use EVMs too hasty?

  • Published at 02:01 am September 12th, 2018
The Election Commission is planning to use EVMs at the polling centres in one-third of the country’s 300 constituencies, a move which drew huge criticism from oppositions and independent observers Syed Zakir Hossain
File photo of an electronic voting machine Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Preparation for large-scale use of EVMs in the 11th parliamentary election, which is little more than three months away, is not possible in such a short time, election experts say

Election experts, most of whom are former election commissioners, have said it would be unwise for the Election Commission to go ahead with its plan to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the upcoming 11th parliamentary election.

The Election Commission is planning to use EVMs at the polling centres in one-third of the country’s 300 constituencies, a move that has been immediately criticized by different quarters, including political parties.

On August 29, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda announced to amend the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 1972 in order to use EVMs in the national polls. The amended RPO is currently with the Cabinet Division for assessment and approval, Joint Secretary SM Asaduzzaman of the Election Commission told the Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday. 

The commission has already announced that it plans to hold the election in the last week of December.

Election experts said the amount of preparations that is necessary in order to use EVMs on such a large scale in a general election is not possible in only three months. 

“EVMs are certainly a better system than the old-fashioned and lengthy ballot system,” said former election commissioner and former district and sessions judge Mohammad Shahnewaz. “But the plan of using EVMs in the coming national election is not feasible, as there is not enough time to prepare for it.” 

Former election commissioner Suhul Hussain said also recommended that the use of the EVMs should not be rushed. 

“I am in favour of using EVMs, but not in a hurry. It has to be introduced gradually, and convince the people of its reliability,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “It would be better to use them in a few polling centres.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who expressed her support for the use of EVMs in the election, also said she did not want a hurried use of EVMs without testing the technology further. 

“EVM-based elections are being held in many countries,” the premier said at her media briefing on the Bimstec Summit on September 2. “I was always in favour of it, and I still support the idea. But there will be no hasty implementation of EVM use, as its success depends on practice.”

When the CEC announced the commission’s plan to use EVMs in at least 100 constituencies during the polls, one of the commission members, Mahbub Talukder, too expressed his dissent, saying he was in favour of gradual use of EVMs in local elections, but did not support the initiative to amend the RPO to use EVMs in the 11th parliamentary election.

Since their introduction in 2010, EVMs have so far been used in different local government elections only.

They were used, on a small scale, during the recently held city corporation polls in Rangpur, Barisal, Khulna and Gazipur. However, there were allegations that the machines did not work properly. 

BNP, the major out-of-parliament political opposition in the country, has vehemently opposed Election Commission’s plan to use EVMs in the national election. 

“These machines can be easily manipulated... the Election Commission, in which we have no confidence, will control the EVMs. We reject their decision of introducing EVMs in the national election,” senior BNP leader Moudud Ahmed said during an event at National Press Club on August 31.

What’s the rush?

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of the civil society organization Shushaoner Jonno Nagorik (Citizens for Good Governance), asked why the Election Commission was so eager to use EVMs in the 11th parliamentary election. 

“The commission said they would consider everyone’s opinion before deciding on using EVMs in the election,” he said. “But suddenly the EC wants to buy 150,000 EVMs costing around Tk4 crore and use them in 100 constituencies. This sudden decision raises suspicion.”

He said he certainly welcomed the new technology of casting votes, but cautioned that it takes years and years to prepare for proper EVM use in elections. 

“Why the Election Commission is trying to do so in such a short time before the election is beyond my understanding,” Badiul said. “These machines are operated by people, and the real question is about the transparency.”

He further said on several occasions, the EVMs used in local elections were said to be reliable, but were later found to be faulty. 

Former election commissioner Mohammad Abdul Mobarak said there are logistical issues regarding the use of EVMs in the national election. 

“It is impossible to get 150,000 EVMs in three months,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “The Election Commission does not have such a huge number of machines in their possession at present. They have to be manufactured by Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory [BMTF]. They [the BMTF] have not yet been able to deliver the 2,500 EVMs that the Election Commission ordered three months ago. How are they going to deliver 150,000 EVMs in the next three months?”

The Dhaka Tribune contacted BMTF MD Maj Gen Sultanuzzaman Md Saleh Uddin in this regard, but he could not be reached despite several attempts. 

Former election commissioner Suhul Hussain said the Election Commission has to build people’s confidence in the machines as it is still widely believed that votes can easily be rigged using EVMs.

Abdul Alim, director of Election Working Group, a platform of election observation groups echoed the former election commissioners’ concerns. 

“A lot of time is needed to prepare for EVM use,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “There is no scope for using EVMs in the coming election. I don’t know why the Election Commission is considering it.”