September 21, 2023

Rig tech – Are EVMs the latest tool for the military to subjugate democracy?

Representative Image: The Secretary-General deployed a Commonwealth group to observe the general elections in Pakistan on 25 July 2018. Courtesy: Flickr

The government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) last month managed to get bill related to Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) passed in the joint session of the parliament amid opposition’s ruckus. The opposition tore copies of agenda and chanted anti-government slogans in the parliament. 

According to Pakistan’s constitution, if the two houses do not agree on legislation or a bill, then a joint session of the parliament can be summoned by the president to approve or reject that. 

The opposition alliance, including the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), rejected the bill, accusing the government of planning to “steal” the next elections. 

The opposition leaders gathered in front of the Speaker’s rostrum, and chanted slogans against Prime Minister Imran Khan during the parliament’s proceedings. 

The opposition leaders while accusing the government of using the EVMs for the next elections declared them “evil and vicious machines” and also accused the government of “bulldozing” the legislation.

Pakistan’s electoral process has always been controversial. Not only controversial but also the fact that most of the national issues and national tragedies have sprung from its womb. The country had its first direct election on the basis of adult suffrage in 1970. That is, 24 years after the independence of Pakistan, the people were asked to whom they want to hand over power. 

If we look into the history, since its independence, Pakistan has been ruled mostly by the dictators. 

A country that inherited the British political system could not sustain it because of the various intrigues of self-serving politicians for whom their survival in politics was more important than anything else. 

The question here is why has democracy failed in Pakistan as a form of governance? The matter becomes more pressing in light that the military takeovers in Pakistan met with little opposition. The military takeovers in Pakistan have been interpreted as a relief for the country from the democratic dictatorship and the governing elite’s misuse of popular support. 

Electronic voting machines are being introduced as the solution to all the problems in the electoral reforms. The impression was given that if electronic machines were to be used, all forms of rigging and fraud would be stopped but the facts are just the opposite. If electronic voting machines were so reliable, Britain, France, Germany and other countries would not have abandoned them after use. There are doubts around the world about the reliability of electronic machines. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has also expressed its concerns about this system. Even so, an example of machines and technology is the Results Transmission System (RTS). In 2018, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, modern technology was used. This system, which was built at a cost of millions of rupees, failed at the time of delivery of results and some results could not be received even after 24 hours. 

In September this year, in its letter sent to Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, the ECP said the electronic voting machine (EVM) can open up the possibility of “more sophisticated fraud” through the manipulation of software and hardware. 

The Commission said that EVMs are presented as a solution to rigging in the elections, but they “cannot counter all types of fraud”. 

Following the passage of the bill related to Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs), Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – an alliance of opposition parties – held an anti-government rally in Peshawar. 

PDM chairman Fazlur Rehman, while lambasting Prime Minister Imran Khan, says: “You have strengthened the grip of establishment in the country’s politics by passing the legislation. The prime minister could be an agent of dictators but not of the people,” he added. 

Fazlur Rehman maintains bureaucracy and establishment control the election results so that the Western world can be told not to worry too much about the presence of religious parties. 

Former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif has also accused the establishment of conspiring against his administration ahead of the 2018 general elections and bringing Prime Minister Imran Khan to power. 

“The sitting army chief and director general of ISI drove [my government] out of power,” says Sharif claiming that his government was otherwise performing well. 

The military’s interference in domestic politics is nothing new for Pakistan and no elected government in Pakistan has been fully independent in making decision on key issues. 

Even the seemingly democratic administrations of the Pakistan People’s Party (2008-2013) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (2013-2018) succumbed to military’s pressures. This was particularly reflected in the dismissal of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the flimsy charge of contempt of court and the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on even flimsier charges.

The military establishment once again made its presence felt in the 2018 general elections by failing the RTS system and paving way for Imran Khan to become the prime minister. 

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