The election commission, at the last moment, has decided to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the national elections scheduled to be held in December, said EC officials, amid criticism and controversy.
“We plan to use EVMs in the elections if all parties agree,” EC secretary Helaluddin Ahmed told newsmen after a meeting at the commission on Tuesday. In the meeting at the Nirbachan Bhaban, the EC discussed bringing about changes in the RPO.
It is necessary to amend the Representation of the People Order (RPO) to use EVMs, the secretary said.
If the decision to use EVMs is taken at an EC meeting on Thursday, a proposal will be sent to the law ministry for vetting, Helaluddin added. After the approval in cabinet, the RPO will be amended in the parliament, he added.
Some of the election commissioners, however, said it is not the right time to plan the use of EVMs in the national elections. This would create controversy, they pointed out.
Besides, the political parties have different opinions about it, the commissioners argued.
The voters are also unwilling to use it, and there are no trained people for the purpose, they insisted.
Meanwhile, the EC has hurriedly undertaken a project to buy some 150,000 EVMs at an estimated cost of Tk 38.29 billion. But no viability study has been carried out, said the planning ministry in its opinion on the proposed project.
EC sources said it is estimated that there will be around 220,000 voting booths for 300 constituencies in the 11th parliamentary election. This will require 264,000 EVMs (including an additional one in each voting centre) for use in all the constituencies. And 132,000 EVMs will be required if installed in half of the constituencies.
The commission led by ATM Shamsul Huda first introduced the use of EVMs in the country. The then commissioner Sohul Hussain told Prothom Alo on Tuesday that only a few months are left for the national elections. So the move to hurriedly amend the RPO is creating suspicions in the public mind.
Election commissioner Rafiqul Islam told Prothom Alo that even if the EVMs are purchased, it is that certain that these would be used. There are questions of EC’s capacity to use these. Then, too, there is the matter of the political parties’ acceptance of the machines, he added.
The EC has no experience in large scale use of EVMs. The officials concerned said the EC earlier decided to use EVMs in all the centres of a municipality election, but as of yet it could not implement the decision. The EC has no skilled manpower to use EVMs on the wider scale in the national elections, the officials added.
The EC had to face problems in using EVMs in some centres of five city corporation elections. In Barisal, EVMs were used in 11 centres. Some 36 officials imparted training for two days to polling agents for taking votes in EVMs system. Besides, 99 officials were assigned to create awareness about the use of EVMs. Three technical officials were kept standby in each polling station. Still, there were problems due to technical glitches. Many voters did not feel comfortable using these.
Last year, the EC held dialogues with 39 political parties. Some 23 parties gave their opinion on the use of EVMs in the 11th parliamentary elections. A total of 12 parties including BNP opposed the use of EVMs.
Seven parties including Awami League were in favour of EVMs while three parties suggested using it on trial basis and a party favoured EVMs on certain conditions.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said many countries stopped using of EVMs as it has no acceptability. The move to use EVMs in the elections raises doubt, he said. He added that the government has realised that it is not possible to manually control elections, so it is now trying to control it by machines.
AL presidium member Faruk Khan said the EVMs are used in developed countries. The elections are held in a fair way and the results are announced quickly. If a decision is taken to use EVMs in the next election, AL will welcome, Faruk added.
At different occasions, CEC KM Nurul Huda said the commission has no preparations to use EVMs in the 11th parliamentary elections. If all the parties do not want it, it would not be used, he added.
On 8 April, the CEC said the EC has no preparations to use EVMs in the national elections. On 7 June, while inaugurating the distribution of Smart National ID card at Baufal of Patuakhali, Nurul Islam said EVMs would be used in the elections if all parties and voters consented to it.
On the amendment of RPO and use of EVMs in the 11th parliament elections, former adviser to the caretaker government, M Hafizuddin Khan said it seems to be motivated. It is not the right time to use EVMs on a large scale, he said.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.