The whole nation has started to think over the issue of the next general election to be held in late December 2018. There are lots of conjectures among the countrymen about the possibility of an inclusive election as the BNP has not yet made their stance clear about the election. They are struggling to continue with the legal battle to make their chairperson free from imprisonment. Moreover, they are also getting worried as to think about the upcoming verdict of the grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina on the 21st of August 2004 where Tarique Rahman is one of the prime accused. Thus, BNP leadership has remained busy in dealing with these legal battles and placing different pre-conditions for their participation in the elections.
Under this political environment, the EC secretary, all of a sudden, declared in front of the media that they are planning to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in one third of the parliamentary constituencies which is 100 parliamentary seats. It is true that technology has been on the rise in every sphere of our life. There are certain advantages of the application of EVM in the election. One of the prime advantages is that it could reduce the possibility of casting the false vote. Secondly, it can reduce the involvement of human resources in the voting process. Third, it could also reduce the possibility of manipulation during the counting of votes. But, at the same time, there are a number of problems with EVM as well. First, it requires time to make those people skilled who would operate the machines. Second, voters need to be trained to cast their vote through EVM.Of course, EVM has been used on a limited scale in different local and urban government elections in the country. In most of the cases, the system has been found effective, leaving criticism in a number of instances. Overall, the application of EVM in these elections was quite successful. But, if the EC really wants to use EVM in a large scale during the parliamentary election, they should have prepared their road map for its application at least a year ago. They should not use the technology so hastily. This hasty effort has made the commission divided on the issue of the application of EVM in a wider scale in the next national election which is unprecedented. One of the election commissioners has not only given his note of decent on this issue and but also briefed the media about his stance. This sort of division within the commission is not good as it would lose their credibility to the political parties and people.
It is no denying the fact that EVMs have been used in different types of elections all over the world. Of course, in most cases, it has been operated successfully. But, at the same time, in some places, the system has been vehemently criticised by different sections. In our neighbouring country India, a lot of criticism has been stirred on the issue of authenticity of the machines. But, having witnessed one of the television talk show where the project director of newly invented EVM was discussing the features of the machine, I am convinced to the fact that the new machine is much more secured as they have been able to connect the machine with the biometric data. Moreover, the machine will not be connected to the internet and no external hard drive would be used in the machines. Thus, for using biometric data, it would not be possible to cast illegal votes. Only, the person who would be identified by the machine through authentication of his thumb would be able to cast votes there. From this perspective, the newly introduced mechanism is more trustworthy than the previous one.
Despite having a number of advantages, the EC has failed to flag the decision at the right time. Had they introduced the machines and took their decision a year ago; they could have taken preparation for implementing their decision in the upcoming election quite easily. As a matter of fact, by this time, they could have sat with all stakeholders to gain their confidence by introducing the newly invented EVM and its advantages. Even in the meantime, they could have trained their presiding and polling officers and made the voters educated about the application of the machines.
Another dimension is that 12 political parties out of 23 whom the EC met a year ago expressed their disagreement about the use of EVM in the next election. It is also true that 11 political parties expressed their positive intent about the application of EVM in the election. But, unfortunately, the EC has failed to ensure balance between the opinions of both groups of political parties. Apart from the opposition political parties, Prime Minister, while briefing the journalists on her visit to Nepal to participate BIMSTEC meeting expressed her opinion in favour of using EVM in a limited scale in the next parliamentary election. This is a matured statement of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the day after Prime Minister expressed her opinion, the Chief Election Commission briefed the media that they are also planning to use EVM in 25 seats to be chosen randomly on the basis lottery. This is really immaturity on the part of the CEC as such statement just after the PM’s statement has provided food for thought to the oppositions who want to play with this statement on the ground that the EC acts on the direction of the government.
It is good that after the PM’s statement, the debate has started to die down as the opposition political parties have found them in an embarrassing situation as they wanted to use this issue against the government by saying that the government is planning to make a digital rigging in the next election through using EVM. I believe that the problem has settled down now. Thus, all political parties should come with an open mind to find ways to make sure that an inclusive election takes places in the country in a festive mood. This is badly needed not only for the institutionalisation of democracy in our country, but also augmenting the process of continuous development in the country. Thus, we will have to come out from the culture of boycotting elections and criticising each other for the sake of criticism.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.