By Kamran Reza Chowdhury on Jan 23, 2023 02:27 pm
Bangladesh’s government has nixed a plan to use electronic voting machines for at least half the parliamentary constituencies in the next general election, citing a funds crunch, the Election Commission said Monday.
The government had planned to automate voting in 150 constituencies amid strong objections from the opposition, which said EVMs made it easy to rig the polls.
The Planning Commission has said the country couldn’t afford to spend U.S. $829 million the machines required as part of the government’s plan for the upcoming general election expected to be held in December this year or January 2024, the Election Commission (EC) noted.
“The Planning Commission of the government informed the Election Commission about its decision not to proceed with purchasing 200,000 EVMs considering the government’s financial capacity amid the ongoing global economic crisis,” EC Secretary Jahangir Alam said at a media briefing.
“The project is not being completely scrapped but being halted for the time being. The EC will advance with its plans to install EVMs at 70-80 constituencies with the resources that are currently available,” he added.
The government plan envisaged buying electronic voting machines from China, an authoritarian state that does not hold national elections.
“The EVMs are mainly Chinese. All equipment is imported from China,” former Election Commissioner Sakhawat Hossain told BenarNews on Monday.
“Locally developed software is installed after assembling the imported equipment. These machines are very slow. EVMs slow down the voting process.”
The South Asian nation used EVMs in some constituencies in the capital Dhaka in the last general election, in 2018. Introduced in 2010 to digitize voting and obtain results swiftly, EVMs have been used in 900 mostly local government polls in the country so far.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is staunchly against EVMs and alleges that the ruling Awami League wants to use them so it can fraudulently return to power.
The government says fraud is impossible with EVMs.
On Monday, some Awami League leaders said that the decision not to use EVMs was a concession to the opposition, an assertion the BNP pooh-poohed.
“It is not just that the government did not approve the project due to financial reasons. There is a political concession in this decision,” Awami League presidium member Shajahan Khan told BenarNews.
“Awami League wants all parties, including BNP, to participate in the next election. We dropped the project as they are opposing it.”
The ruling party is not being honest, said BNP media cell chief Zahir Uddin Swapan.
“The Awami League’s claim that the EVMs were canceled due to the opposition’s objections is not true. The Planning Commission did not approve the project mainly due to economic distress,” he told BenarNews.
“There is no political integrity in this decision. If they had scrapped the project when economic conditions were good, the people of the country would have believed them,” the BNP leader said.
Former Election Commissioner Sakhawat, meanwhile, faulted the EC as well for trying to pursue the EVM plan.
“There are sharp differences between the two political parties over these EVMs. Why should the EVM be introduced just because the ruling alliance wants it? The EC has thereby lost its legitimacy,” he said.
“The economic condition of the country is not good. The government itself is saying this. In this situation, why did the EC forward such a project for approval?”