ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems to be withdrawing from its core goal set under its Second Strategic Plan (2014-18) in which it had promised to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) and biometric machines in the next general elections.

The strategic plan unveiled by ECP in June had set some ambitious goals, asking political parties to make legislation for introducing EVMs and biometric machines for an effective control on district returning officers (DROs), returning officers and all other relevant staff associated with the election process.

But, interestingly, the ECP officers seem to be stepping back from their goals set by them under its strategic plan a few months back, arguing that the electoral technology was not error-free and could not be trusted.

In fact, ECP Information Technology Director General Khizar Aziz, while briefing the members of Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms a few days ago, surprised the highly-powered forum by revealing that the software used by EVMs could be manipulated to affect poll results.

He went on to say said that the EVMs installed at polling stations were vulnerable to hacking via Bluetooth technology and other means of wireless connectivity.

Official sources in the ECP told The Nation Tuesday that the electoral agency was backtracking from its key goal it had set under its strategic plan, adding the ECP should encourage introduction of the technology instead of finding out flaws in it.

The sources said the ECP should not worry about cost of the project as was argued by some officers for the expenses would be borne by the government. “If the electoral technology was so unfeasible, why did the ECP spend money and waste time in preparing its strategic plan?” a well-placed official questioned.

Interestingly, the ECP devised its strategic plan for the next general elections after taking input of all political parties in the wake of widespread rigging allegations that triggered the government to go for wide-range electoral reforms.

A parliamentary committee, comprising 33 lawmakers, was formed for legislation to implement the strategic plan of ECP in letter and spirit. The committee comprises 22 MNAs and 11 senators.

But The Nation has reliably learnt that some political parties were against introduction of modern technology in the polling process, thus reducing the five-year plan of ECP to a piece of trash.

“The stakeholders of electoral technology are political parties and voters.

A technology that gets success in India does not necessarily mean it would be effective in Pakistan. As an expert on electoral technology, I would not recommend EVMs or biometric machines for Pakistan,” ECP IT Director General Khizer Aziz told The Nation when approached.

He said the technology should be used as a pilot project and if it worked, it should be applied to provincial and National Assembly constituencies, keeping in mind error-free results and other implications.

“I have studied pros and cons of EVM in several countries. In India, election results by electoral technology have been termed electronic fraud by some critics. It would be a disaster if EVM is introduced in the whole country ahead of testing the technology in a pilot project,” Aziz said.

About biometric machines, he said more than 10 percent of voters in Pakistan carried no photographs on their CNICs while similar number of voters had no thumb verifications. “So how can we say that the biometric machines will produce 100 percent fair results?” he asked.

He, however, said the final decision in this regard would be taken soon after a permanent chief election commissioner (CEC) was appointed, adding the political parties also needed consensus on introduction of modern technology in elections.