Election commissioner Brigadier General (retd) Ahsan Habib Khan, however, told Prothom Alo that the voting process in EVMs is transparent and flawless and the EC is working to earn the confidence of political parties to this end. EC would sit with the national technical advisory committee on EVM and political parties would be invited to see how the machine works.
The commissioner said voting can be done in around 100 constituencies with the number of EVMs currently at the EC’s disposal. The decision about using EVMs in more seats would be taken upon discussion at EC meetings.
EC sources said they have already held several meetings on the pros and cons of EVM. The EC would scrutinise the technical details of the EVM at their meeting with the national technical advisory committee on EVM. The EC would then invite the political parties to bring experts so that they can evaluate the machine for themselves. The decision to use EVM at a larger scale would be taken later.
The EC thinks BNP’s apprehension on the EVM is basically political. A source related to the matter said EC would not bother about any objections of BNP if the party does not budge despite showing them that manipulation of EVM is not possible. In that case, the EC would go forward with its decision to hold the election with EVM.
The EVMs were used for the first time in Bangladesh in 2010 in Chattogram City Corporation polls. The EC led by ATM Shamsul Huda used EVMs at 14 polling centres of a ward experimentally. Those EVMs were made by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The EMVs now used by the EC are manufactured by Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF). Although the use of EVM is a controversial matter in the political arena, the EC has been using it in different local government elections.
Prior to the last general election, the EC led by KM Nurul Huda hold discussions with stakeholders where a mixed reaction came about the EVM. A total of 23 parties expressed their opinion on the matter. Of them, 12 including BNP were against the use of EVMs in the eleventh parliamentary election. The EC used EVMs in six constituencies in that election held in 2018.
The incumbent commission also held dialogues with stakeholders ahead of the next general election. They have so far sat with educationists, eminent citizens, editors of newspapers and senior journalists. A mixed reaction has come from the participants with a majority opinion that the EVMs cannot be used without consensus.
Many suggested the inclusion of the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in the EVMs so that voters get a printed slip after casting their votes. Some suggested the authorities have to ensure election engineering is not possible in the EVMs.
Decision after winning trust
AL president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina at a meeting of the party’s highest decision-making body central working committee indicated that the voting would be held in EVMs in all 300 constituencies in next general election.
Representation of the People Order, the law which regulates the election, allows the holding of elections either by traditional ballot paper or EVM. It is the EC that has the power to make the decision.
Replying to a question from a journalist, election commissioner Md Alamgir on Monday said the EC has not even discussed the matter yet. He said a news report has been published that a political party has discussed the matter in a party programme but the EC has not yet received any formal or informal request from them about using EVMs. Also, such requests cannot be made by the government, he added.
Alamgir said the decision about how to conduct the election is usually taken after the announcement of the polls schedule. There has not been any discussion yet about purchasing EVMs. He admitted that some parties have apprehension about EVMs and said they are pondering how to dispel their apprehension.
300,000 more EVMs needed
EC sources said they do not have the wherewithal to hold elections in all 300 parliamentary seats in a single day in EVMs as yet. Election to only 100 to 110 seats is possible with 150,000 EVMs the EC owns right now. So the voting has to be conducted on multiple days if EVMs have to be used in all constituencies.
Syed Rakibul Hasan, director of the EVM project, told Prothom Alo that 300,000 more EVMs would be required to conduct elections in a single day in all constituencies.
He thinks the election can be conducted by EVMs if the decision is taken at right time.
Rakibul said the cost of EVMs likely to increase compared to the past.
Sources said EC has collected 150,000 EVMs under a five-year project undertaken in 2018. The project worth around Tk 40 billion would end in June next year. A single EVM machine costs Tk 235,000 under the project. Taking the same cost into consideration, collecting 300,000 more EVMs would cost around TK 80 billion.
Moreover, some challenges remain in EVMs such as the technophobia of voters, especially of the elder ones, lack of skilled manpower, and technical glitches. Also, voter turnout in EVMs was comparatively low.
Considering these factors, non-government organisation Brotee's chief executive officer Sharmeen Murshid thinks EVMs should not be widely used in the next general elections.
She told Prothom Alo that EVM is not adequately tested in Bangladesh. Several errors appeared whenever EVMs used in local elections
She also said the EC does not seem to have the capacity to conduct elections through EVMs in all 300 seats. They need to settle the trust issue people have regarding the EVMs first.
Saying that many countries which once used EVMs are no longer using the machine, Sharmeen concluded that she thinks voting through traditional paper ballot is best for a country like Bangladesh.