With only a few months left before the national elections, the Election Commission is planning to use electronic voting machines in the polls amid opposition from different political parties including the BNP.
The commission has even initiated a move to procure 1.5 lakh EVMs at an estimated cost of Tk 3,821 crore, EC sources told The Daily Star yesterday.
The EC officials also sent the Planning Commission a proposal relating to the purchase and use of EVMs for bringing transparency in electoral system, they added.
According to a Planning Commission document obtained by this newspaper, no feasibility study on the EVM project has been carried out yet. A project evaluation meeting was supposed to be held on August 19 but it was postponed.
However, Tk 3,515 crore has already been allocated for procuring 1.5 lakh EVMs and other necessary equipment, said the document on the meeting postponement.
EC sources further said there might be 44,000 polling centres in the general elections slated for December. Each of the stations will be comprised of five to six polling booths.
Taking this into account, at least 2,64,000 EVMs are required for the polls. Besides, 44,000 more EVMs should remain standby with one machine for each polling station, said an election official.
Some officials estimated that with the 1.5 lakh EVMs to be bought, voting will be possible using those at around half of the total stations.
Yesterday, the EC held a meeting at the Nirbachon Bhaban, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda, and discussed bringing necessary changes to the Representation of the People Order (RPO), 1972, to pave the way for using EVMs in the next general election.
Currently, there is no provision in the RPO for using voting machines in the national election.
Emerging from the meeting, Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam told reporters that they have started discussions on RPO amendment aimed at introducing EVMs in the upcoming parliamentary election.
Without going into details about the discussions, he said the EC will sit again on August 30 to finalise the matter.
Replying to a query, he said after finalising the proposal on EVMs, the EC will send it to the law ministry, which will take necessary measures to place a bill in this regard in parliament.
The final session of this Jatiya Sangsad will begin on September 9.
Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam, also the chief of the commission's law reform committee, on August 19 told reporters that the EC would try to get the electoral law amended in the parliamentary session next month.
According to some sources, the EC wants to have the provision for EVM as the ruling Awami League wants it in the next election.
In the commission's electoral dialogues last year, 35 of the 40 registered parties, including the BNP and its allies, opposed the idea of EVM in the next general election.
The rest five -- the ruling Awami League, its allies Workers Party of Bangladesh, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction led by Hasanul Haq Inu and Bangladesher Samyabadi Dal (M-L) and Zaker Party -- supported EVM.
The BNP has all along been opposing the commission's move alleging that this might facilitate the government's election engineering.
At a press conference on August 19, BNP's Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed said, “EVM means flawed election. Free and fair election is not possible with EVM. It will create scope for digital rigging.”
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Ruhul Amin Hawlader, secretary general of Jatiya Party, the main opposition in parliament, said people don't have faith in EVMs.
“That's why we think the Election Commission should take more time before using EVMs in the national election,” he added.
After holding dialogues with the registered political parties on the next general election, CEC Nurul Huda had said the commission will not go for voting machines in the national polls if political parties oppose it.
The EC has used EVMs on a limited scale in different local body elections and faced some technical complications.
Former Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain yesterday told this reporter that the EC should use EVMs in the general election after taking opinions of all stakeholders.
“Otherwise, the fairness of the election will be called into question as voting is a very sensitive issue in our country.”
Sohul said question might arise whether it would be possible for the EC to complete necessary training of voters and EC staff concerned about the use of EVMs within the time left before the next election.
He also said after the Bangladesh Bank heist and scams at different banks, people and political parties are in doubt whether voting through EVMs will be fully transparent.
“But it is the EC's job to clear up this confusion,” he said, adding, the EC should hold dialogues with political parties in this regard.