EVM use in 150 seats max
The Election Commission has decided to use EVMs in up to 150 parliamentary seats in the next general election though major opposition political parties still have no confidence in the voting machine.
The commission, however, has yet to choose the constituencies where EVMs will be used, and it will be finalised when the election schedule is fixed.
Top EC officials said they would use EVMs mostly in the urban seats with smooth transportation and also where the devices were earlier used for different elections.
The opposition parties have slammed the decision saying it only proved that the Election Commission was subservient to the ruling party and only implementing the government's will.
The BNP and its allies have long been opposing polling with electronic voting machines, saying the devices would allow the ruling party to "steal votes".
The Jatiya Party, the main opposition in parliament, and the Gono Forum also have taken stance against EVM during recent talks with the EC.
Yesterday, after an Election Commission meeting, EC Additional Secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath told reporters that they have decided to use EVMs in "not more than 150 constituencies" in the next general election.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal and all election commissioners were present in the meeting.
"At this moment, we have the capacity to use EVMs in 70-75 seats," Ashok said, adding the commission has a total of 1.5 lakh EVMs and they would buy more, if necessary.
"The EC has demonstrated EVM before us and we are convinced that there is no scope for election fraudulence using this machine. A voter will be able to cast vote for the candidate of his or her choice."
Asked about the opposition from various political parties, he said, "The commission has taken the decision after taking the recommendations of political parties into consideration."
EC officials said chances are slim of adding voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) with the EVMs -- another recommendation that some political parties placed during the talks with the EC.
The commission is taking advice from experts about VVPAT, a system which allows voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, and most of them so far opined that if the VVPAT is incorporated, the machines will freeze and might have some other technical issues.
"So, there is hardly any chance of adding VVPAT system to the machine," said an official.
Another EC official said, "We now need to know whether we will get an adequate number of EVMs from manufacturers. We will also be keeping in mind the issue of trained manpower and others."
With the Jatiya Sangsad polls, likely in late December 2023 or early January 2024, the EVM issue came to the fore especially after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at an AL meeting on May 7 said voting machines would be used in all 300 constituencies in the election.
"The decision to use EVMs in the polls is actually the government's decision, not the Election Commission's. The EC is just a weapon to fulfil the will of the government."
Recently, 19 out of 39 registered political parties have directly opposed the use of EVMs, either joining or skipping the talks with the EC held on July 17-31. Among them are the AL's archrival BNP and the main opposition in parliament, the Jatiya Party.
Only three -- the ruling Awami League, Samyabadi Dal and Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh -- during the talks categorically said they want the machines in the national election.
The EC also held a series of views-exchange meetings on EVM in June with 28 political parties. Only four of them, including the AL, said they were in favour of EVMs in national elections.
Introduced in 2010, EVMs were used in various local government elections. The then Election Commission led by ATM Shamsul Huda had used them in the city corporation polls but not in any parliamentary election.
In 2012, the EC headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad also kept the EVMs out of the national polls.
The Nurul Huda-led commission overhauled the EVM system and used it for polling in six constituencies in the 2018 December election.
Twelve political parties, including the BNP, opposed the EVM while attending talks with the EC in 2017, and 11 parties including the AL supported it.
"The decision to use EVMs in the polls is actually the government's decision, not the Election Commission's. The EC is just a weapon to fulfil the will of the government," said Nazrul Islam Khan, standing committee member of the BNP, in his reaction to the latest development.
"They appointed people of their choice so that their purpose can be served. We don't even want to make comments on the EC's activities", he added.
"We don't support the EC's decision to use EVMs in the general election. The EC did not honour the parties that opposed EVMs during the talks. We condemn the decision."
Expressing similar views, Mujibul Haque Chunnu, secretary general of Jatiya Party (Ershad), said, "We don't support the EC's decision to use EVMs in the general election. The EC did not honour the parties that opposed EVMs during the talks. We condemn the decision."
He added, "We do not have any confidence in EVM. People believe that voting fraudulence takes place when EVM is used."
Gono Forum Executive President Mukabbir Khan said the decision was opposite to people's aspirations. "The EC took such a decision due to their subservient attitude towards the ruling party."
Awami League Presidium Member Kazi Zafarullah refuted the allegations of the opposition parties and said, "I totally disagree with them and this allegation is unfair. This EC has been appointed by the president in line with law."
He added, "The EC has demonstrated EVM before us and we are convinced that there is no scope for election fraudulence there. A voter will be able to cast vote for the candidate of his or her choice.
"It is the EC that will conduct the election, not the Awami League. As a party, it is the Awami League's responsibility to assist the commission to hold a free and fair election."