ISLAMABAD - United Nations expert on Electoral Technology advised Pakistan yesterday to pilot Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Biometrics till 2018 and launch the technology across the country in 2023 elections after reviewing its merits and demerits.
Ronan McDermott, a leading UN expert on Electoral Technology told a high-profile gathering attended by Chief Election Commissioner and lawmakers that Pakistan should first understand the use, merits, drawbacks and legal aspects of the modern technology it intends to introduce to its electoral system.
“Subject to successful pilots, and acceptance by stakeholders I recommend that ECP gradually scales up EVM with a target date for full national rollout not earlier than 2023,” the UN expert who was specially invited to brief ECP officials and lawmakers about the use of modern technology in electoral system said.
And the CEC Justice (Retd) Sardar Raza Khan sounded in favour of the advice floated by the UN expert stating that before committing to a large technology purchase, “the ECP would carefully review the EVMs and biometric machines. He said that the ECP will continue trying the machines on pilot project basis.
McDermott presented a global view of the merits and demerits of the main electoral technologies and gave comparative experience on the adoption. “My experience in elections management in Pakistan and other countries leads me to recommend that Pakistan pilots a variety of EVM over 2017 and in 2018 General Election. To determine which technology is most appropriate,” he added.
He further stated and recommended that the results management system be given a solid legal framework and be used in all by-elections between now and 2018. “Transparent results management contributes to ECP’s credibility,” he said, adding, trust was more important than technology.
The seminar was attended by lawmakers of majority of political forces including PPP, MQM, PML-N, ANP, PkMAP, PTI, JI, PML-Q and top officials of ECP and civil society organisations.
Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid who is also convener of the multi-party Parliamentary Sub Committee of Electoral Reforms said that the Committee has met for 49 times and has brainstormed mainly on use of modern technology in next general elections.
Putting his weight behind the recommendation of the UN’s expert, the Minister said that ECP will start acquiring electoral technology in the next six months and will conduct by-polls using EVMs and biometric technology so that the voters could adapt to the modern paperless ballot papers.
“The machinery is no doubt expensive and complicated for the first time users. Moreover, we have to see the specifications and we have to do legislation in this regard,” he added.
Though PTI’s MNA and member of the electoral Reforms Committee Arif Alvi said that the electoral machines could be used in 2018 general elections, the experts and lawmakers of other political parties did not agree and said the technology should first be reviewed before spreading it to all polling stations.
The event provided forum for the Election Commission of Pakistan and other stakeholders to initiate a meaningful discussion and identify workable solutions on the use of technologies in elections. The CEC Sardar Muhammad Raza earlier outlined how the use of any modern technology must contribute to the ECP’s Constitutional obligation to conduct elections honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.
He outlined how the Election Commission in consultation with the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Electoral Reforms has piloted a range of innovative initiatives such as mobile results transmission, biometric voter identification, and GIS-enabled polling schemes.
“All these efforts are aimed at ensuring the credibility of the democratic process and the reliability of election results in line with the international best practices for sustainable democracy and good governance in Pakistan,” he said. The seminar titled ‘Use of Modern Technology in Elections’ was attended by Senators Mushahid Hussaid Syed, Saeed Ghani, Sitara Ayaz, Usman Khan Kakar, MNAs Dr Farooq Sattar, Dr Arif Alvi, Ghous Bux Mahar, Sahibzada Tariqullah, Iqbal Qadri and representatives of FAFEN, DRI and Aurat Foundation.