The government and the opposition have again come at crossroads with regards to polarizing issue of elections. The PTI-led government has been fiercely advocating establishment of a voting system containing the electronic voting machines (EVM) as it says that this will make the election process as transparent as it can get. However, the opposition is resisting the move as they say that the machines will facilitate rigging. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) expressed its reservations about the electronic voting machines through a document which was submitted to the Senate’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. In the document, it listed 37 specific objections regarding this move towards digitalizing the voting system. Among the ECP’s concerns are, the machines are not tamper-proof and have software that can be easily altered; that there is not enough time for such large-scale procurement and deployment of the voting machines, as well as training the massive number of operators required; and that there are security issues involving the chain of custody.
The government, however, stated that the ECP’s doubts are baseless and unnecessary. Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz stated that 27 of the objections were due to the commission’s own lack of capability, while the remaining 10 were handled by the indigenously-built voting machines. He reaffirmed the government’s intention to use EVMs in the next election as it is highly motivated and dedicated towards the reforms. While the government’s determination towards this lingering issue is commendable, it must focus on getting the long-awaited electoral reforms right and this can only be done if both the government and the opposition are on the same page. Currently, they have not been able to draw a consensus on who to place at two vacant positions in the Election Commission. At this point, it is likely that the constitutionally mandated deadline for the appointments will be missed.
Every time, elections take place in Pakistan, the parties that are not able to form a government start a campaign against the government, saying that the elections were rigged. After the 2013 elections, PTI did so and fairly disrupted workings of the PMLN-led government by going on several months-long strike in the federal capital. After the 2018 election, PMLN and other opposition parties have claimed that the elections were rigged. If the electronic voting machines are introduced, and if one thinks optimistically, the problems of rigging may be eradicated completely. On the other hand, extreme amounts of rigging could also take place by tampering with the machines. Therefore, if this system is to be established it must be a foolproof one. Moreover, the government must take the opposition along while establishing anything related to the elections so that there is transparency. Lastly, the 2023 elections should become the first ones to use the electronic voting machines.