No EVM in next JS polls
The Election Commission has decided not to use Electronic Voting Machines in the next parliamentary election.
Major opposition political parties, including the BNP, are dead against the use of the machines.
The decision is a major deviation from the EC's work plan for the next polls. It had planned to use EVMs in up to 150 constituencies.
After a meeting of the election commissioners yesterday, EC Secretary Jahangir Alam revealed the decision. He said that a lack of funding by the government to buy new machines and refurbish the old ones is a reason behind the decision.
Jahangir told reporters that paper ballots and transparent ballot boxes would be used in all 300 constituencies during the polls, slated for late December or early January 2024.
On the EC's earlier plans to use EVMs in up to 150 constituencies, he said a Tk 8,000 crore project was undertaken in this regard, but the Planning Commission did not let the project go further.
EVM supplier, Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory, had said Tk 1,260 crore would be needed to refurbish 1.1 lakh EVMs. The commission had sought the money from the finance ministry, but the ministry expressed its inability to pay that amount, he said.
Jahangir added that the EC does not have the money needed to refurbish the EVMs and that imports of required components take time, which the EC does not have either.
"Moreover, many political parties could not reach a consensus on the use of EVMs in the national election. The commission may have made the decision considering all this."
The EVM issue came to the fore after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at an Awami League meeting on May 7 last year said voting machines would be used in all 300 constituencies.
The EC in late August decided to use EVMs in up to 150 constituencies. It had then the capacity to use EVMs in at best 70 constituencies as about 30 percent of the 1.5 lakh machines it had were serviceable.
On August 24, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said, "The decision to use EVMs was the Election Commission's. The commission will handle the polls, not the political parties. It is the commission's big responsibility to conduct the election."
The EC made the decision despite opposition from major political parties, like the BNP and the main opposition in parliament Jatiya Party (Ershad), Gono Forum and Communist Party of Bangladesh and others.
At least 19 of the 39 registered political parties directly opposed the use of EVMs. At least 10 of them voiced their opposition during their talks with the EC between July 17 and July 31 last year.
Nine parties, including the BNP, skipped the talks and opposed the EVM use. The BNP and several other parties also stayed away from another EC dialogue over the use of EVMs in June.
During the EC's talks, only three parties -- ruling Awami League, Samyabadi Dal and Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh -- said they want the machines used in the polls.
Thirty-nine eminent citizens on September 6 issued a statement urging the EC not to use EVMs. The statement said that use of the machines might provoke political debate and erode people's confidence in the commission.
After deciding to use the EVMs in August, the EC prepared a project involving Tk 8,711 crore to buy 2 lakh new machines, but the Planning Commission in January this year sent back the proposal, saying the government could not afford it "in the current global context".
Many had then criticised the EC move to spend half a billion dollars amid an economic crisis.
The EC in February sought Tk 1,260 crore from the government to repair the old machines.
The ministry declined the EC proposal in a letter, which was read out at yesterday's meeting, sources said.
Several officials who attended the meeting said one commissioner wanted the EVMs used in some constituencies, but in the end, the commissioners were unanimous in their decision not to use EVMs.
WHAT PARTIES SAY
AL presidium member Abdur Rahman yesterday said the EC has met the BNP's demand. "I hope they will take part in the election since their demand has been met. We are not unhappy … ."
The BNP and like-minded political parties have been pressing for a 10-point demand that includes the formation of an impartial caretaker or interim government that would form a neutral EC to ensure a level-playing field for all parties.
"Election using EVMs or paper ballots is not the issue. We will not participate in any election under the incumbent government. The Election Commission's decision does not make any sense to us," BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told this newspaper yesterday.
Jatiya Party Secretary General Mujibul Haque said his party welcomed the EC's decision. "Election will take place using ballot papers and it's all right. But how will the Election Commission be able to create a conducive atmosphere for a holding free, fair and neutral election?" he said.
Communist Party of Bangladesh President Ruhin Hossain Prince said that on paper the EC is independent but the reality is different. "…. The EC would not be able to hold a free and fair election under a partisan government even if it wanted to do so… so we need to overhaul the existing election system."