EVM in 300 seats: BNP dead against, EC undecided
The recent statements by the Awami League high-ups that electronic voting machines will be used in all constituencies in the next general election have triggered a fresh debate, as the BNP vehemently opposes it while the Election Commission remains undecided.
BNP leaders alleged that using EVMs is a new tactic of the ruling party to "steal votes". Jatiya Party, the main opposition in parliament, also questioned the rationale behind deploying the voting machines, pointing out that the common people are still not accustomed to this new technology.
The Election Commission said it will decide on it after discussing with the political parties and other stakeholders.
"How will the polling be held? How will it be done -- through EVMs or ballots? How many constituencies will have voting through EVMs and how many through ballots? We have not made any clear decision yet. This matter is now under review," said Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal yesterday.
Talking to the media at the Election Training Institute after addressing an event, he said political parties can give their opinions but the EC will review it before making the final decision.
He, however, said the Commission does not have the capacity to use EVMs in all the 300 seats right now. "We can hold voting in around 100 seats with EVMs."
On Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also the AL chief, said at a meeting of the AL Central Working Committee that voting in all 300 constituencies will take place using EVMs, according to insiders.
The next day, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader told journalists at the Secretariat that EVMs will be used in the next general election due late next year.
Political and election commentators view these statements from the AL top brass as a pressure on the EC, the sole authority to decide on the matter.
"Whether EVMs will be used or not in the polls is at the absolute discretion of the Election Commission. But the Commission is now under pressure as the Awami League said it wants EVMs in all the parliamentary seats," former election commissioner Brigadier General (retd) Sakhawat Hussain told The Daily Star.
Despite having the full mandate for making such decisions, the Commission now has to walk a tightrope, he added.
A number of civil society members and eminent citizens in recent talks with the EC opined that the Commission should refrain from using EVMs in polls unless there is a national consensus.
"The issue of EVM is contentious now and it is better to keep a distance from that unless there is a national consensus on it," Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya said during the dialogue.
Chattogram University Professor Muhammad Yeahia Akhter proposed not to use EVMs in any constituency, as it is a high-tech machine and most voters do not have knowledge about it.
Contacted, BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury yesterday said the party's position is very clear: there has to be an election-time neutral government and ballot papers instead of EVMs.
Also, talking to the media at the party's Nayapaltan headquarters, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir questioned, "How come the prime minister says EVMs would be used in all the 300 seats?"
This proves that the ruling party controls the electoral process and it has destroyed the electoral system in a planned way, he added.
The party has repeatedly said it would not participate in any polls overseen by the incumbent government as "free and fair election is not possible" under it.
The BNP boycotted the January 5, 2014, election demanding a non-partisan interim government to hold the polls. It, however, participated in the last parliamentary polls though its demand was not met.
On Monday, JP Chairman GM Quader told a programme that confusion and distrust were created among political parties centring on the PM's statement on EVM.
"I personally think that there is a huge scope of vote rigging through EVMs, and the system is faulty. But we will take a final stance after discussions in the party forum," he said.
When the EC used EVMs in the city corporation and union parishad elections in the last several months, many voters faced inconveniences as their fingerprints did not match.
On some occasions, voters also alleged that after their identities were confirmed, agents of the Awami League candidates pressed the button for boat, the electoral symbol of AL.
Asked if the EC was feeling any pressure regarding the EVM issue, Election Commissioner Brigadier General (retd) Ahsan Habib Khan said, "We do not feel any pressure. We will sit with the national technical committee on EVM. We will also sit with experts nominated by political parties to discuss the EVM issue."
EVM Project Director Colonel Syed Rakibul Hasan said currently they have around 1.5 lakh EVMs. "We will need about 4.5 lakh machines for holding elections using this technology in all 300 seats."
Around 2.9 lakh election related officials have been trained on EVMs so far and over 5 lakh trained manpower will be needed to hold elections in all seats using EVMs, he added.