Pakistan, being a federal democracy faces a series of chaotic general and local bodies elections intermittently. They burden the national exchequer in term of billions, law and order situation erupts that affects the economy for weeks if not months. The entire civil and military machinery diverts its efficiencies towards conducting fair and free elections. Generally on these days several precious human lives are lost during the polling violence, ballot material is snatched, staff maltreated and taken hostage and the process comes to an end before sunset, leaving many without having used their right to vote.
The results are declared before midnight and the next day dawns with the losers crying ‘foul play’ and shouts of rigging are heard. The process does not end there rather another episode opens, nationwide agitations, political feuds and wrangling ensues that mars the beauty of parliamentary democracy. Due to judicial activism, the apex court of Pakistan directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and NADRA to devise a plan in order to facilities overseas Pakistanis to exercise their voting rights. It was reported that the software was prepared over night for the purpose. However, later the matter was shelved till the next general elections.
Recently, PTI government in KP hinted at improving the polling process by issuing smart cards to citizens. The same is also part of their election manifesto as well. The underlying object was the same i.e. to make the process more hassle free and transparent. The current traditional polling mechanism is not sufficient to cope with the enormous pressure on ECP and state machinery. Apart from that it is also prone to misadventure and manipulations. The same has been substantiated by NADRA while vetting ballot paper in Karachi based national constituency NA-256. The forensic report prepared by NADRA has cast doubts on the authenticity of entire election process throughout Pakistan, thanks to its manual nature.
We have sophisticated technology in the form of NADRA, it has a world-class expertise in biometrics identity documents in the global market. A lot of time is left in general election of 2018. If initiative is taken now, in the form of necessary legislation and provision of IT expertise for e-voting, it can yield results soon.
NADRA and ECP can also provide an option to citizen to cast vote through secure email facility. This will solve the problem of overseas voting and lessen the crowd at the polling station. It will also solve the law and order situation. Another issue with the polling process is the limited time form 8am-5pm, which means only nine hours. Majority of population is located in far flung areas where transport facilities are scare. Due to time-constraints many do not vote.
All these are just raw ideas at the moment but if they are debated and refined they can bring a lot of transparent changes in the traumatic political culture of Pakistan. Resultantly, it can be hoped that the nation can get salvation from the so called fabricated and manipulated election process.
Ali Asad,
UK, March 26.