ISLAMABAD:(APS) March 22 ,2017: Parliamentary leaders and civil society representatives agreed that electronic voting machines (EVM) would not be a silver bullet solution for election problems in Pakistan at a roundtable convened by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) at Islamabad. The forum was an opportunity for election stakeholders to explore the mechanics of key provisions in the Draft Elections Bill 2017 that permit the use of technology in the upcoming 2018 general elections. Experts on technology in elections led a spirited debate on the potential benefits and risks of elections technology in areas including electronic voting, biometric voter verification, results management and overseas voting.
DRI’s Election Expert Vladimir Pran emphasized that there is no one-size solution to address election problems. “Part of the problem is that rigging allegations in Pakistan can refer to so many electoral issues – we first need to determine which type of rigging we want to address through technology, as that will determine the type of technology we need,” said Mr. Pran while addressing the audience.
Shabir Ahmed Country Director, International Foundation for Electoral Systems said that transparency, integrity and accountability are integral part of an electoral process and introduction of technology should be in line with them. Besides highlighting the challenge of training large number of election staff, polling agents, and voter information, he urged that the stakeholders to consider whether Pakistan is following regional trend towards introducing technology or is trying to bring about a solution to election problems. Shmyla Khan, a lawyer and activist with the Digital Rights Foundation, noted that cybersecurity and privacy concerns must also be accounted for to protect voter data.
International examples were highlighted through the debate. DRI Pakistan Country Representative Hassan Nasir Mirbahar pointed to a reverse trend in several countries including Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium where elections technology has been rolled back after being used due to its disadvantages.
Rashid Chaudhry of the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) pointed out that while certain technologies such as electronic voting would be high risk and require extensive testing, other uses of technology may be beneficial for the 2018 general elections – particularly automation of the results management system since trust in results was the biggest problem in the aftermath of the 2013 elections. However, he emphasized that first the independence of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has to be ensured by parliament through legal reforms.
Leading parliamentarians Naeema Kishwar (JUI-F) and Dr. Fouzia Hameed (MQM, Pakistan) concluded the session with agreement that testing of such technologies is essential and the existing system must first be improved. Ms. Kishwar, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, underscored the urgency of passing the Draft Elections Bill 2017 so that a range of electoral reforms can be properly implemented for the upcoming general elections.