The move comes amid opposition from different political parties
The Cabinet has given final approval to the three proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 1972, opening the way for the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the upcoming 11th national election.
The proposed Representation of the People’s (Amendment) Act 2018 will allow the use of EVMs alongside ballot papers, a move that has been opposed by various political parties and organizations.
The Cabinet took the decision at a weekly meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held at the Prime Minister's Office on Monday.
Briefing reporters later at the Secretariat, Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam said that an ordinance in this regard would be promulgated by the president as the last session of the 10th parliament ended on Monday.
The Election Commission is planning to use EVMs at the polling centres in one-third of the country’s 300 constituencies during the vote, which it wants to organize in the last week of December.
Shafiul said: “The Election Commission may now use the EVMs in the next general election.”
According to the proposed law, he said, a loan defaulter would be allowed to pay his loan even a day before submission of his nomination paper to contest in the polls.
Currently, loan defaulters are required to pay back the loans seven days before submitting the nomination papers to run in the electoral race in line with the existing RPO.
Besides, he added, the draft law also proposes to allow the submission of nomination papers online alongside the existing manual system.
Shafiul Alam said that the proposed law would give the Election Commission authority to introduce the EVM system, approve the EVM format and EVM software, and take safety measures for EVMs.
The draft law proposed a number of safety measures for the EVMs to allay people's fear over their security features, he said, adding that the commission may approve an EVM considering safety measures.
About these measures, he said that an EVM cannot be altered, tampered with and hacked. "The machine will not have any network, internet connection, computer control and remote frequency. It'll also be protected from any tampering and manipulation.”
“All precautions and safety measures are there so that no voter is cheated or deprived while exercising his or her franchise,” added the Cabinet secretary.
On August 30, the Election Commission decided to propose the amendments to the RPO.
Since their introduction in 2010, EVMs have thus far been used in different local government elections only.
The ruling Awami League has always been in favour of using the machines for the national polls, by amending the RPO.
However, BNP and left-leaning political parties, apart from independent election observers, have always opposed the idea, expressing concern that the machines could be used to rig the election.
The commission’s Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed, who accompanied the Cabinet secretary during Monday’s press briefing, said that the RPO amendments also include provisions with maximum seven years or minimum three years in jail as punishment if anyone vandalises or breaks the EVMs or creates obstruction in using the machines.
He also said that the manual voting system – ballot papers and boxes – would also be in place and used at the polling centres where EVMs would be used in case technical issues arise during the balloting.
Helal, however, added that they were yet to decide how many centres would see the use of EVMs during the national polls.
The Election Commission has already started a Tk3,825.34-crore project to procure 150,000 EVMs, with Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory tasked to supply the machines. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project last month.
Last year, the commission had also held dialogues with 39 political parties, 23 of which gave their opinion on the use of EVMs in the national polls. Twelve parties, including the BNP, had directly opposed the idea.
Other acts and policies
The Cabinet during yesterday’s meeting also approved drafts of three more acts and two policies.
They are: Bangladesh National Social Welfare Council Act, 2018; Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Set Up (Control) Act, 2018; Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Aviation and Aerospace University Act, 2018; National ICT Policy, 2018; and National Telecommunications Policy, 2018.