E-voting takes centre stage in Dhaka city polls as BNP objects, CEC defends

With political focus shifting towards the Dhaka city polls, electronic voting machine has taken the centre stage as the chief election commissioner has defended e-voting amid the BNP’s stance against the machines.

Senior Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 25 Dec 2019, 01:29 PM
Updated : 25 Dec 2019, 04:05 PM

The Election Commission will go for EVMs in all polling stations in the elections to the bifurcated Dhaka city corporations slated for Jan 30.

The BNP has always opposed the use of EVMs and it has expressed reservations again this time over fears of result manipulation.

“These (EVMs) are completely faulty and we reject these. It won’t be right (to use EVMs). The people’s mandate won’t be reflected in these EVMs,” Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters while paying respect to party founder Ziaur Rahman at his grave in Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar on Wednesday.

“We think there will be little chance of fair elections if EVMs are used,” he said.

Fair polls are “actually impossible if operated by the current election commission with the Awami League in power”, according to the BNP leader.

“But after all, we are contesting in the elections because we believe in democracy,” he added.

CEC KM Nurul Huda, however, said the commission opted for EVMs as the machines “proved fruitful” in previous polls, including some constituencies during the last general election and some local government polls.

“That is why EVMs have survived despite all the odds,” he told a workshop at the EC headquarters for the returning officers and other officials who will be on the field during the Dhaka city polls.

“Many of you have already conducted polls with EVMs. There is no problem in conducting elections with EVMs. People can exercise their voting rights successfully with them,” he told the officials.

The CEC, however, hinted at scrapping the plan to use EVMs in the Dhaka city polls if all stakeholders raise an objection.

The Awami League has reassured the BNP of cooperation with the EC for free and fair elections with General Secretary Obaidul Quader saying that the ruling party cares more about fairness of polls than it does about winning.

He welcomed the BNP’s decision to contest in the Dhaka city polls and told reporters at an event at the Dhaka University that the government was not worried about losing these elections.

“Sky will not fall if we lose,” he remarked.

“We want fair elections. The commission is using EVMs in these elections. The government will fully cooperate with the EC so that it can work independently,” Quader said.

“We want elections to be full of contest. I am reassuring you that the elections will be free and fair because Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants acceptable and credible elections,” he added.

Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar, who has triggered controversy several times for his dissent, however, believes the commission is not independent in reality.

“The Election Commission is independent by the law, but in reality its freedom is shackled by the election process,” he said at the EC workshop, calling for reforms to the process.

He noted that there were doubts about the EVMs, and said, “It’s baptism by fire for the EC. If we succeed in tackling this challenge, it will be possible to use EVMs in all stages in future.”

As Talukdar insisted that the entire election will still be called into question if the use of EVMs becomes questionable, CEC Nurul Huda said, “If everyone says that elections cannot be held properly with EVMs, we will not use the machines.”

HOW EVMS EVOLVED

The BNP and different other political groups have been opposing EVMs since the ATM Shamsul Huda-led EC introduced the machines in Bangladesh in the 2010 local government elections.

The commission had said at the time that it would expand the use of EVMs as the machines would reduce cost and time of voting and counting.

But the subsequent commission headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad did not make much ground on the issue of EVMs. It also had a dispute with the BUET over the machines and their use stopped after 2013 as those has gone out of order.

After the commissioners led by Nurul Huda took over, the EC resumed the use of EVMs and ‘digitised EVMs’ were made with the help of Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory or BMTF.

The commission had used EVMs in local government polls on a limited scale but said it had no plan to use the machines in the parliamentary polls unless all the political parties agreed.

When the EC had proposed a project for a large-scale use of EVMs weeks before officially launching preparations for the next elections, the BNP suspected foul play in the commission’s move in the eleventh hour.

The Awami League welcomed the EC’s action and questioned the BNP’s motive, claiming it reservations were bred by the fears of an electoral debacle.

Hasina said she favoured a limited trial of the machines in the parliamentary elections suggesting "a gradual rise in the use of EVMs to let the officials and the people learn and teach the new system first for getting used to".

The government later took a Tk 38.25 billion project to buy a total of 150,000 EVMs in order to make the voting process “transparent, reliable and free from errors”.

The EVMs used by the current EC in recent polls are better than the ones used beforehand, according to Prof Md Haider Ali, a member of the commission’s technical committee.

“This machine leaves no room for rigging. The ballot will be issued only after automatic verification is done to ensure the identity of the voter,” Prof Ali, who teaches computer science and engineering at Dhaka University, had told bdnews24.com.

“The voter can vote only after identification through fingerprints or NID,” he had said.

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Editor-in-Chief and Publisher