Democracy Gets an Electronic Boost

At a booth in Peshawar to test a fraud-proof voting system. By Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.
  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar, pakistan)
  • Inter Press Service

Imran Khan is eager to do away with endless complaints of rigging. His is the majority party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.3

The new system will be launched by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) with the support of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). A mock vote was taken in four union councils in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Imran Khan has issued 2,500-page white paper alleging rigging in the May 11 election by his archrival Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and now Pakistan's prime minister for the third time.

"We have 64 petitions in courts against bogus voting in Punjab province. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has admitted our petition for verification of thumb impression in four constituencies," Imran Khan tells IPS. "We have proof that the election was massively rigged."

Khan says his party has had to accept the election results but his fight to end bogus voting will continue. "We are committed to hold the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on biometric voting system. None of the parties will raise a finger at the process."

The system is already in use in neighbouring India where it has proved extremely effective, Khan says. Once it is introduced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the other three provinces will follow suit, he says.

"Sooner or later, we have to adopt a modern system, then why not now. It will be a revolution in the election history of Pakistan."

Nadra Qaboos Aziz who directed the trial says voter verification through the biometric system took only 10 to 15 seconds, and this duration will be reduced further with use of trained staff.

Under the new procedure, a small biometric machine with a complete data of voters will be installed in polling booths. The machine costs only 35,000 rupees (330 dollars). The new process is expected to cost 2 billion rupees in the province (20 million dollars).

"Under the system, one person can cast only one vote, as the biometric machine will recognise the card if anyone tries to cast a second vote. Only people whose names are fed into the machine could vote," Aziz tells IPS.

"The system will prove effective against bogus voting because it only allows those who have computerised identity cards issued by Nadra. The manual system allowed candidates to cast illegal votes in bulk, especially in the name of women," says Yousaf Khan, a local resident who took part in the mock voting.

The machine rejected his ID card when he tried to re-insert it, he says.

Imran Khan argues that democracy needs the biometric system. "Political parties have 350 cases in the court regarding fraud in the May elections which are unlikely to be decided."

Khan, whose team won the cricket World Cup in 1992, says he was the first to campaign for introduction of neutral umpires in the international cricket, and cricket has become more competitive as a result. "Pakistan and India always accused umpires when they lost against one another. Now with the arrival of neutral umpires, there are no such allegations.

"Now, I am going to ensure impartial elections through biometric voting system," he says.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is yet to announce a date for local elections. Balochistan province held local government elections on Dec. 7 while Sindh and Punjab have announced they will hold elections on Jan. 18 and Jan. 30 respectively.

"We are delaying the process because we want to hold free, fair and transparent election at any cost and make the province a role model for other provinces," says Shah Farman, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister.

"We are making history. Nobody will be able to snatch the mandate of people in future through rigging in election."

© Inter Press Service (2013) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service