No electoral reforms discernible as PM’s EVM idea rejected out of hand

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 02:25 PM, 2 May, 2021
No electoral reforms discernible as PM’s EVM idea rejected out of hand
File photos.

It is very unfortunate that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan no elections, general or by-polls, held during the past decades were accepted as fair and impartial.  

The party winning a particular election calls it the fairest, most transparent and impartial while the losers reject the same as rigged, manipulated or stolen.  

Such claims and counterclaims have been going on for decades and are continuing to date. 

Political parties, whether in power or on opposition benches, have failed to reform the flawed electoral system and shape up one whose results could not be challenged by any party on any pretext.

Still more painful is the fact no change is discernible on this front even in distant future. 

The result of the NA-249 (Karachi) election, held only a few days ago, has also been made controversial. While the PPP, the party that has been in power in Sindh for the past 13 years, has won the seat though with a narrow margin, the PML-N has made a demand for repolling. (The Election Commission has withheld the formal result and will announce the same after recounting).  

The PTI, the party in power at the federal level, faced a humiliating defeat in the city of President Alvi despite tall claims about the government’s performance. 

In this situation Prime Minister Imran Khan invited the opposition parties to talks to reform the electoral system and reach some agreement on the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

But, predictably, the response from the opposition parties has been very negative. 

While inviting the opposition parties to talks to discuss the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) to “reclaim the credibility” of elections, PM Khan argued that technology and use of Electronic Voting Machines are the only answer to reclaim credibility of elections.  

To highlight the significance of his idea, he said: “In NA-249 by-election, despite a low turnout, all parties are crying foul and claiming rigging. Same happened in Daska recently and in Senate elections. In fact, apart from 1970 election, in every election claims of rigging have raised doubts over credibility of election results.”  

To substantiate his argument about the effectiveness of the technology in elections, he cited the example of last year’s presidential election in the US, saying nobody paid heed to rigging allegations by former president Donald Trump only because of the use of technology in the process. 

“Trump’s team did everything to dispute 2020 presidential election result; but because technology (was) used in electoral process, not one irregularity was found.”

The prime minister said: “Our government is determined and we will put in place reforms in our electoral system through the use of technology to bring transparency and credibility to our elections and strengthen our democracy.”  

But, responding to the prime minister’s tweets, PML-N President and former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif rejected the EVMs idea, terming it unreliable.  

He said the EVM voting system had been rejected all over the world. Even the Election Commission of Pakistan has declared it not credible, he said, adding how such an important national responsibility could be carried out at the whims of a singular person. 

He said it is the parliament which really manifests people’s hopes and trust. But the doors of parliament have been locked for the last three years, he added.

Shehbaz Sharif, who has been released on bail recently, advised the government that instead of talking about electoral reforms, it should take care of the tattered economy, inflation and wretched economic condition of the people.

Another PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz rejected the talks offer, saying: “Your party came last in NA-249, so you need not worry and please don’t try to look relevant. You have been REJECTED over and over again. Step down.”  

“And please do not try to act smart and use this as a pretext to pressurize the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and escape from the foreign funding case,” she said. 

The PPP’s response was equally negative.  

Secretary General Farhatullah Babar has been quoted as saying “the use of the EVM in elections is a non-starter in Pakistani context”. 

He said numerous studies had shown that it was “susceptible to manipulation and liable to be used for electoral fraud”. 

Moreover, Mr Babar said, in a country where “state agencies switched on and off internet and social media platforms with impunity on the pretext of national security”, it was not easy to trust the EVMs

“The fear of electoral manipulation will increase, not decrease, after the use of the EVMs,” he said. 

In such a situation one fails to understand how will the problem be resolved when the relevant parties are poles apart.