1193Published on September 27, 2022
Dr Rashid Askari:
The probable use of electronic voting machines (EVM) in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Bangladesh has excited a controversy as to whether or not this computer-mediated voting system is reliable. In this age of unprecedentedly high technological advancement, the very thought of the unreliability of the electronic voting machine is simply ludicrous. It reminds us of the 1991 BNP-Jamaat government who turned down the proposal of installing submarine cable in Bangladesh for global information superhighway connection completely free of cost for ‘fear’ of leakage of information. Afterwards, Bangladesh had to install the submarine cable network system at a huge cost to develop its international internet gateway connectivity to meet the rapidly growing demand for internet bandwidth and ensure uninterrupted internet services. So, refraining from using the latest technology support, readily available, is a backwards-looking attitude. From this point of view, the use of EVM, an outstanding electorally effective technology should not frustrate people so easily, though the election process as a whole may smack of vulnerability to many of us.
Electronic voting aka E-voting is an expression of automation at the polls. It builds up a safe cushion against election fraud. Where there is automation there is no discretion and where there is no discretion, there is no chance of corruption. So, to lay blame on the machine without sparing a thought proves the sheer lack of knowledge of technology. Countries like America, England, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and India have used EVM without any side effects on the elections.
The Election Commission of Bangladesh has recently unveiled the Election roadmap for the 12th parliamentary election to be held between the last week of December 2023 and the first week of January 2024. The Commission has identified its objectives, challenges and remedial action to successfully hold the elections. It has also approved of buying EVMs for use in a maximum of 150 parliamentary seats preferably in the urban areas.
Though the constituencies have not yet been fixed, the decision of using the EVM has been slammed by many. The parties showing no confidence in the EVM seem to have sounded preposterous. The EC has not, however, suggested using EVM wholesale giving a clean sweep of the ballot paper. It has been, rather a balanced decision and this gradual increase in the use of EVM by EC is both acceptable and practicable.
The two major camps in the country’s politics are divided on the issue of EVM. The larger group--Bangladesh Awami League and its allies want EVM to be used in all 300 seats in the upcoming parliament elections while Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies are diametrically opposed to it. Given the number of representatives in the parliament and the parties registered with the EC, the majority population, as the EC says, is in favour of EVM. The EC also assures that at the moment they are capable of using EVM for 70 to 80 constituencies and hence they have proposed to buy EVMs for the rest of the 150 seats. It is hoped that they will be able to use EVM in all the 300 seats in the subsequent elections. This is, for sure, a kind of automation and thereby empowerment of the EC in this age of digitization. However, the EC is also expected to win the voter’s confidence in regard to the use of machines in the elections. Resistance to change poses a major threat to our society and the people concerned have to deal with it in a softly-softly approach.
Those who are critical of the EVM tend to assume that the machine by itself is vulnerable to manipulation. This is a sweeping generalization though. The detractors should come forward with tangible proof as to how to manipulate the machine. If they can produce the telltale signs that the system of electronic voting is open to abuse, there is none to gloss over the problem. I think they are not sure whether the problem is with the machine or with something else. If the EC is willing to manipulate election results, there are numerous easier ways. Getting it done in an electronic way can be a risky business. Besides, if the EC changes its mind in regard to the use of EVM, could the ones who find problems with it, guarantee that they would put their trust in the EC? If not, then why should they lay the blame on these lifeless machines? Are not they the proverbial bad workmen who quarrel with their tools?
To hold elections equally acceptable to all parties is as practicable as pigs might fly. But given the political circumstances prevailing in the country, that might just be wishful thinking. However, the EC must keep trying, as far as possible, to create a level playing field. If they fail to achieve it to the fullest, they should still go ahead to hold elections for the sustenance of parliamentary democracy. And to take recourse to the support of technology should be a better option.
EVMs have been widely used in the world to quicken the voting process and save time and money. This is more pertinent to Bangladeshi elections where the number of voters is larger than in the countries that prefer to use EVMs. Besides, the close-circuit cameras will be there to see if things are in place. The many anomalies in our election system can be done away with by the use of EVMs. It is acceptable in another sense that it will identify the voters and act as a deterrent to fake polls. It will also help reduce many other problems like fraud in the vote centres, hijacking of ballot boxes and proxy polls. Besides, EVMs help adopt more inclusive poll strategies in which voters with visual disabilities can cast their votes through audio interfaces. It is a major step forward in the electoral policy of the government.
Some are crying foul over the expense of EVMs. They are pointing an accusing finger at the EC for their proposal for buying 2 lakh EVMs for 8,711 crores Bangladeshi Taka. They do not seem to be aware of the asset value of EVMs. Surely, EVMs are not going to be bought on a whim. As long as the election culture enjoys vogue in the country, EVMs shall remain worth the expense.
The EVM controversy is, however, not a matter of concern to the masses. They consider elections as occasions of great festivity. For them, it’s not worth bothering with the EVM thing. They are looking forward to a good election—regardless of whether it is held in an electronic way or manual. If they can be assured of a pretty healthy exercise of the franchise, they will be more than happy.