Other than CEC Awal, no one has been heard terming election commissioner Anisur's comment a result of dementia. His comment which was made while speaking at a meeting on 21 May in Madaripur about updating the voters' list, should be analysed. Election commissioner Anisur said, "There is no machine in the world as good as our EVM. All the political parties have IT experts and we will show them our machines too. We will give them the machines to see where there are any glitches. No one knows where each machine is being sent. Our chief election commissioner has declared a 10 million dollar reward for anyone who can detect any discrepancies in the EVM."
Commissioner Anisur Rahman has not offered any explanation for his statement. Even when the CEC spoke of his dementia, sitting right beside him, he did not utter a word. This could mean two things -- either he is genuinely suffering from dementia and so has lost the ability to decipher the meaning of CEC Awal's words, or he is following the bureaucratic norm of 'the boss is always right'. As he lacks the mental strength to take an independent and separate stance, he did not feel the need to maintain his dignity by either protesting or resigning.
Article 118 (5) of the constitution says that the removal of election commissioners from office will be conducted in the same way as that of Supreme Court judges. And according to Article 96 (5), a Supreme Court judge or person holding similar office may be removed by the president if inquiry by the Supreme Judicial Council finds him incapable of performing functions of his office due to physical or mental incapacity.
The most objectionable issue regarding the EVM was that no paper trail of the votes was maintained for possible recounting of the votes (India's Supreme Court ruled this as compulsory)
There has been a flurry of activities over this excerpt of commissioner Anisur's statement. All sorts of preparations are on to impose the EVM on everyone in the next election. As part of these arrangements, there has been an effort to show the EVM to certain scientists and gain the support of reliable quarters. Letting aside their proximity to the government, those who have been summoned for this purpose hardly have the trust of the opposition parties. Based on their statements which have appeared in the media, no one can say that the EVMs are 100 per cent accurate. But they have echoed the words of the ruling party leaders, saying there is no fear of rigging with the EVM. They have expressed their confidence without even getting a chance to check the source code to be used by the EVM.
The enthusiasm of the ruling coterie in the EVM is nothing new. In the 2018 election too, the EVM suddenly burst on the scene at the government's interest and initiative. Though there was a parliament session in October that year, no move was taken for any amendment of the law required for use of the EVM. But a few days after the end of the parliament session, the president promulgated an amendment in Representation of the People Order (RPO) to give scope for votes to be cast through the EVM. And overnight, funds of around Tk 35 billion (Tk 3500 crore) were managed for the purpose. But due to time constraints and lack of preparation, the EVM was only used in a limited manner. After that the EVM was used for various by-elections and local elections, none of which was satisfactory. The voters and the opposition candidates were irate over the hassle of fingerprints not matching, and mysterious delays in vote counting, but the election commission paid no heed. The most objectionable issue regarding the EVM was that no paper trail of the votes was maintained for possible recounting of the votes (India's Supreme Court ruled this as compulsory).
Most European countries, far ahead of us in technological advancement, have left the EVM and reverted to paper ballots due to security risks
Another commissioner of the new commission, Brigadier General Md Ahsan Habib Khan (retd), though, mentioned the biggest problem as 'robbery'. He said, "'Robbers' now take up position in the secret booth and that is the challenge of the EVM." On the very day he made this remark, the union parishad 'boat' candidate in Chambal union of Banshkhali upazila of Chattogram, incumbent chairman Mujibul Huq Chowdhury, said, "I will have people at the centre to push the button." He also said that if there hadn't been the EVM, he would take all the votes in the night before. It is not that there haven't been people kept at the booths in the past to push the EVM buttons. Complaints arose wherever the EVM was used in the local government elections held under the Nurul Huda Commission. And the administration and law enforcement agencies directly or indirectly play a supportive role in such 'robbery' by the ruling party men.
The last two national elections proved that no election system will be effective without an understanding among the major political parties. Without that understanding, the commission's over-enthusiasm about the EVM will naturally give rise to questions. After the head of government announced that the next elections would be held with EVMs, the immediate flurry of activity in the commission over EVMs will naturally give rise to suspicion. No one will easily forget the shameless role of the Nurul Huda commission in carrying out the ruling party's wishes. And if the Awal commission displays even more allegiance towards the government than its predecessor Huda commission, what can others do? Everyone is well aware how the Rakib commission's record paled in comparison to the Huda commission.
Most European countries, far ahead of us in technological advancement, have left the EVM and reverted to paper ballots due to security risks. Many use the large democracy India as an example of using EVM. But even in India there is no end to debate and dissatisfaction over the EVM. Though the country has been using EVM for nearly two decades now, opposition Congress has started calling for a turn back to paper ballots. We may not recognise Pakistan as a democracy, but just last week over there, a decision was taken to reject the use of EVM in the next election.
The manner in which the last commission was adamant about the EVM, it increased suspicion and mistrust among the people. Last fiscal another Tk 5 billion (Tk 500 crore) was allocated for the EVM project. If the objective of the commission is to overlook the objection of most of the parties and use the EVM in the elections in order to justify this huge expenditure, this will simply serve to exacerbate political complications further.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir