South Asia

Bangladesh Election Commission Forced to Drop EVMs

All major opposition parties had raised concerns about the electronic voting machines, accusing them of enabling rigging, information leaks and causing slow voting.

New Delhi: The Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) has decided not to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the next parliamentary election. While EVMs have a chequered history in the country, the decision to drop them comes out of financial compulsions.

According to the Bangladeshi newspaper Daily Star, the EC had until now been adamant about the use of EVMs despite the concerns expressed by the opposition parties.

On Monday, April 3, EC Secretary Jahangir Alam said that the decision was taken because of a “lack of funding by the government to buy new machines and refurbish the old ones”, according to the newspaper.

Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory, which supplies the EVMs, said Taka 1,260 crore would be needed to refurbish 1.1 lakh EVMs. While the EC sought this money from the finance ministry, the latter expressed an inability to pay that amount, according to Daily Star.

Paper ballots and transparent ballot boxes will be used in all 300 constituencies during the next parliamentary polls, which will happen either in December 2023 or January 2024.

Many political parties could not reach a consensus on the use of EVMs in the national election, EC secretary Jehangir said.

In an editorial, the Daily Star said that since EVMs were introduced in the 2018 parliamentary election, “there have been widespread fear about its fool-proofness to electoral tampering; in particular, concerns were raised about the audit cards via which election results are collected, which are vulnerable to manipulation in the absence of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT)”.

“We are glad that the EC has finally seen reason, if only in consideration of the enormous expenses that the project would entail. Back when the proposal was first made, we had warned the EC against such an expensive undertaking in the midst of the worst economic and cost-of-living crisis in over a decade, particularly given that Bangladesh was buying the EVMs at inflated costs,” the paper said.

The newspaper also said that while the decision to stop using EVMs is a “step in the right direction”, the EC must focus on “other pressing issues that it must address” to ensure the confidence of the public and political parties that the elections will be free, fair and participatory.

An article published by the Dhaka Tribune in January this year detailed the “controversy-riddled history” of EVMs in Bangladesh. Allegations against the machines included “vote rigging and information leaks, complications with fingerprints, and slow voting”. Problems were reported in the Rangpur City Corporation elections in December 27 2022, Comilla City Corporation election in June 2022  and the city corporation elections in Narayanganj in January 2022, the report says.