The EC claimed that the Bangladesh Islami Front took a stand directly in favour of EVM.  But the party directly opposed the use of EVM in its formal proposal during a dialogue with the commission on 18 July. 

The party said in its proposal that effective steps should be taken to ensure people's right to vote through transparent ballot papers, rather than through EVM. But the commission engineered this statement and flipped the party’s stance regarding the EVM.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the chairman of Bangladesh Islami Front, MA Matin, said on Thursday that his party is directly in against the use of EVM in the national polls. They informed the commission over the issue verbally and also in the form of written recommendation.

The incident of changing opinion of political parties is quite unbelievable. The election commissioners themselves said they are in a crisis of confidence and such activities will further intensify their crisis
Badiul Alam Majumder, Secretary of SHUJAN

In its proposal submitted to the commission on 19 July, Khelafat Majlis said nothing about EVM, but proposed to hold the next election through ballot paper. However, the election commission showed the party to have stood in favour of EVM.

Jalal Uddin Ahmad, acting secretary general of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlis, said they categorically stated during the dialogue at the commission that they want voting through ballots. It is not true if the EC publication mentions the Khelafat Majlis’ stance in favour of EVM. It is reprehensible. 

The majority of political parties are against EVM. The election commission assured in the dialogue that they will give importance to the views of political parties, but they did not keep their word, he added. 

The commission said in its action plan that Khelafat Andolon is in favour of EVM, subject to a number of conditions.

The journalists were provided with a copy of the party’s formal recommendation which it submitted to the commission. The recommendation, titled ‘No Use of EVM’, said the people do not have a clear idea about EVMs. The rural people, in particular, are totally unknown to the machine. Besides, there has already been a controversy about the EVM at home and abroad. The voting will be impossible to many and the election will be in question if the machine is used. 

Mujibur Rahman Hamidi, nayeb-e ameer of Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon, said his party is against the use of EVM in the polls and they informed the commission in this regard in a written form. 

CEC Kazi Habibul Awal told the Awami League leaders in a dialogue in July that most of the political parties do not believe in EVM. But the commission said in its road map on Wednesday that it would not be reasonable not to use EVM as most parties in the dialogue talked in favour of EVM

Election commissioners Ahsan Habib Khan and Mohammad Alamgir could not be reached despite repeated attempts over the phone. CEC Kazi Habibul Awal tested positive for Covid-19 and senior election commissioner Ahsan Habib Khan is serving as acting CEC.

Regarding the suspicion and mistrust of political parties in EVM, technologist Faiz Ahmad Taiyeb said a major weakness of EVM in Bangladesh is that it does not have a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system. 

In the system, the voting machine provides a paper showing detailed information of the vote, but the voter will not be able to collect the paper, he explained.  

In absence of VVPAT, the results announced by the election commission will be final and there will be no chance of recount or audit. That is why late Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, chairman of the election commission’s technical advisory committee, did not sign the recommendation to buy EVM in 2018. 

EC itself decides proposition and opposition 

Some political parties proposed using EVM subject to inclusion of VVPAT facility. But the election commission showed some of them in favour of EVM while some in against. 

Workers Party of Bangladesh (WPP) and National People’s Party (NPP) both asked the commission to add the VVPAT facility, but the EC showed both of them in favour of EVM. 

National Democratic Movement (NDM) and Khelafat Majlis also spoke about inclusion of VVPAT facility, but they have been shown to be against the EVM in the EC action plan.

Workers Party, a member of Awami League-led alliance, supported the EVM on several conditions. According to the party, there is mistrust and scepticism among people regarding the EVM. Besides, the commission’s claim that the EVM cannot be hacked is not substantiated. 

Rashed Khan Menon, president of Workers Party, told Prothom Alo on Thursday that they are in favour of EVM subject to conditions. They have handed over the conditions to the commission in a written form. The EVM will not be functional if these conditions are not fulfilled.

He also said his party will continue saying the conditions, no matter what the election commission decides.  

Noting that EVM is not completely safe, Zaker Party asked the election commission to use an alternative method. But the commission showed the party directly in favour of EVM.

Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Ganatantri Party, Islamic Front Bangladesh, Bangladesh Sangskritik Mukti Jote, and BNF voiced in favour of EVM subject to conditions. 

Jatiya Party (JP) and Bangladesh National Awami Party sat in dialogue with EC after the latter’s decision on using EVM. However, the two parties supported EVM conditionally. 

The conditions include resolving the controversy, prevention of mechanical errors, elimination of associated complications, ensuring security, and making the method acceptable to all. BNF president Abul Kalam Azad told Prothom Alo that if the EC thinks that the statement they (BNF) gave in the dialogue is in favour of EVM, it is so and if they think it is against, then it is against.

Developed countries moving away from EVM

The election commission has already decided to use EVM in maximum 150 seats in the next national elections. The commission said the political parties have to build confidence in the machine.

Earlier, CEC Kazi Habibul Awal told the Awami League leaders in a dialogue in July that most of the political parties do not believe in EVM. But the commission said in its road map on Wednesday that it would not be reasonable not to use EVM as most parties in the dialogue opined in favour of EVM.

In a statement on 6 September, some 39 eminent citizens urged not to use EVM in the upcoming national elections. They termed the EC's decision to use EVM as unreasonable and requested to consider how much the huge expenditure (around $80 billion) to buy EVM is justified amid the current economic crisis.

Noting that many countries are now moving away from EVM due to its technical limitations and voters' lack of confidence, the statement said, Germany, France and the Netherlands, which are more advanced in terms of technology, have also stopped using EVM. Out of 178 countries in the world, only 13 countries are currently using EVM in elections.

The statement was signed by Amir-ul Islam, Serajul Islam Choudhury, M Hafizuddin Khan, Zafrullah Chowdhury, M Sakhawat Hossain, Ali Imam Majumder, Tofail Ahmed, Shahdeen Malik, Debapriya Bhattacharya, Asif Nazrul, Syeda Rizwana Hasan and others.

Nine parties including de facto opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and CPB did not participate in the dialogue called by the election commission last July. These parties are directly against EVM.

Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), said the election commission was earlier seen trying to put dirt in people's eyes. But now it seems the commission is cheating.

The incident of changing opinion of political parties is quite unbelievable. The election commissioners themselves said they are in a crisis of confidence and such activities will further intensify their crisis.

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Misbahul Haque

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