ECP opposes hasty online overseas voting

Against the backdrop of the electoral body’s ‘reservations’ against the voting facility to the overseas Pakistanis, the election commission, Nadra and Attorney General of Pakistan are to hold a consultative meeting today to discuss the relevant options.

In its report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday, the electoral body opposed e-voting for the overseas Pakistanis through an ‘uncertified and untested’ computer system, saying it would be too ‘risky’ and could even prove ‘disastrous’ for the overall election exercise. The ECP suggested that initially the system should be used on a limited scale and this too would require legislation.

The commission maintained that without a proper mechanism in place, enabling non-resident Pakistanis to vote would compromise the transparency of the election process. A hurried decision over the matter may in fact prove to be ‘disastrous’, it said.

Despite rejection of ECP’s previous excuses and clear instructions to it by a three-judge SC bench for extending voting facility to 4.5 million Pakistanis living in 15 countries, the electoral body seems to be shying away from its responsibility and is likely to come under fire in the next hearing of the case.

The court repeatedly asked the commission to seek the required legislation through presidential ordinance and few days ago, top Nadra officials claimed they have developed sophisticated software with foolproof security features for the purpose.

To convince the ECP management about the reliability of the software, Nadra Chairman Tariq Malik would reportedly give today a presentation to ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan and AGP Irfan Qadir.

Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, when approached, denied the ECP had concerns over the Nadra-designed software. He, however, said that some other problems were being faced in this regard.

“Our IT experts have told me that there’re some technical issues like linking the ECP’s central voting process with all those countries where polling stations are to be set up. So there’re security risks you see,” he said, adding that varying laws in the different states are another problem. “But to say that we oppose this software is absolutely incorrect. Why would we?”

The CEC further said, “There’re certain countries like those in Gulf and Middle East where democratic practices are not allowed due to monarchies. They don’t allow the right to assemble in congregations and the right to vote. Not to forget that millions of Pakistanis are living in these states. These are some problems we have to deal with and we’ve consulted the AGP and Foreign Office for this purpose.”

An official at the ECP IT branch said, the commissions’ reservations were also linked with the repeated cyber attacks on the ECP website, which recently remained suspended for some time due to cyber attacks that the electoral body claims were ‘foiled’ without any harm done to their data.