Just about four months before the national polls, the Election Commission is planning to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in around 100 out of the 300 constituencies.
EC Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed made the disclosure yesterday amid strong opposition from different political parties, including the BNP, regarding the use of EVMs.
"If everything goes well, including legal reforms and the opinions of political parties, the Commission will be able to use electronic voting machines in one-third of the constituencies in the parliamentary polls,” he said, adding that the polls would be held in the last week of December.
The EC has already sent a proposal to the planning ministry for its approval to procure 1.5 lakh EVMs for around Tk 3,500 crore, he told reporters at the Nirbachan Bhaban in the capital's Agargaon.
According to a Planning Commission document obtained by The Daily Star, no feasibility study on the EVM project has been carried out. A project evaluation meeting was supposed to be held on August 19 but was postponed.
Yet Tk 3,515 crore has already been allocated for the procurement of 1.5 lakh EVMs and other necessary equipment, the document said.
At present, around 10 crore voters are registered. So if EVMs are used in 100 constituencies, roughly about 3 crore voters will get to vote electronically.
Currently, there is no provision in the Representation of the People Order (RPO) for using voting machines in national elections.
So, to use EVMs in the December polls, the RPO, which regulates elections, must be amended. Also, separate rules have to be formulated allowing electronic voting, the EC secretary said.
Asked, Helaluddin told The Daily Star that they would move to float tenders for the procurement of EVMs upon approval from the Planning Commission.
Earlier on August 26, the EC held a meeting at the Nirbachan Bhaban, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda, and discussed bringing necessary changes to the RPO.
At the briefing yesterday, Helaluddin said the EC would hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss the RPO amendment. Later, they would send the proposal in this regard for law ministry's vetting.
"Once the law is passed, the Commission will sit with the political parties [to get their opinions regarding EVMs]. The decision will then be taken whether the EVMs can be used in the parliamentary elections or not."
The EC has completed 80 percent of its preparatory work for the national election, he added.
The Commission has a plan to arrange fairs to promote EVM usage in Dhaka city in September, especially to attract young voters. It also intends to do the same in other districts as well.
So far, the EC has procured 380 EVMs and used them on a limited scale in different local body elections.
In the recently held city corporation elections, EVMs were used in three polling centres in Khulna City Corporation with 10,000 voters; two centres in Sylhet City Corporation with 5,413 voters; 11 centres in Barisal City Corporation with 25,000 voters; and two centres in Rajshahi City Corporation with 3,383 voters, sources said.
In the EC's electoral dialogues last year, 35 of the 40 registered parties, including the BNP and its allies, opposed the idea of using EVMs in the next general election.
The other 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 the use of EVMs.
The BNP has all along been opposing the EC move, alleging that this might facilitate “the government's plan for election engineering”.