Electronic voting machines to be used in next polls: ECP

ISLAMABAD: The Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Ishtiak Ahmad Khan, has said the EC has decided to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the next general elections to be held in 2018, reminding that it was a demand of all the political parties.

ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad revealed this at the EC Secretariat after the formal launch of the second five-year strategic plan of the electoral body on Thursday. About the features of the machines that would have an in-built biometric verification system, he said this had already been finalised and necessary orders for production of prototype machines for pilot projects had been issued.

The ECP secretary, however, said the introduction of EVMs for general elections would require legislation by parliament. After Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government of Sindh, in what may be perceived as delaying tactics, has also evinced interest in the use of biometric machines during the local bodies elections.

The secretary noted that Sindh had also requested for biometric verification of voters in the local government polls. He was of the view that the local government polls in the KP could be possible in November this year.

To a question, he said 4.5 million expatriates holding National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) had been enrolled as voters. But, he said, that enabling them to cast their votes at polling stations established abroad would also require relevant legislation.

The EC, he pointed out, was in the process of preparing a draft package of electoral reforms. He noted that reforming the electoral legal framework was the first of the 13 broader goals set under the second strategic plan.

Ishtiak said a key feature of the electoral reforms package to be sent to parliament would be the power of the EC to take action against the polling staff, including the returning officers, district returning officers and presiding officers, found involved in wrongdoings.

It may be mentioned here that there had been strong demands for holding accountable all those who were responsible for ensuring transparency and fairness on the polling day, yet cases of casting multiple votes surfaced in the constituencies where voter thumb verification was carried out.

To another query, he said the EC derived its powers from the Constitution and the law. He said under the law, if a detailed enquiry into an allegation of electoral irregularity was required, it fell under the domain of the election tribunals.

He said matters like last minute change in the polling scheme could also be raised before the election tribunals. On a report by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) about the number of rejected votes in 35 National Assembly constituencies outnumbering the difference between the votes secured by the winners and runners-up, he said it was not something surprising. “Had the votes been rejected without any ground, the issue could have been raised before the returning officer, who invites all candidates before opening the bags containing votes,” he remarked.

He underlined the need for fresh delimitation of national and provincial assembly constituencies in view of the demographic changes that had taken place over the years. He called for holding the much-delayed population census in the country.

The ECP secretary said a summary to this effect moved by the ECP had been approved by the prime minister and the matter was currently pending with the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

Ishtiak announced the ECP also planned to introduce the Geographical Information System (GIS) for delimitation to make the process foolproof. He said the candidates would be able to see their entire constituency on website.