Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Pakistan’s recent election mess: A sign it is time to modernize its elections

As election results trickled in at a snail’s pace, allegations of rigging reached a crescendo and erupted into swaths of violence across the country. Pakistan’s most recent elections were a perfect recipe for disaster, casting an ominous shadow over the future of the young democracy.

It took authorities three days after the polls closed to announce the results, a delay that put democracy in danger amid bitter and impassioned cries of electoral fraud.

This recent episode is fueling fresh debate about election modernization, and how it could have averted the disaster. The country is not new to the idea, having mulled this initiative for years. Sadly, the plan was mothballed when political noise became too overwhelming.

President Arif Alvi, who is at the forefront of the e-voting advocacy, laments Pakistan’s missed opportunity to prevent the crisis. In a tweet, he rues:

“Remember 'our' long struggle for Electronic Voting Machines. EVM had paper ballots that could be counted separately by hand (like it is being done today) BUT it also had a simple electronic calculator/counter with each vote button pressed. Totals of every candidate would have been available & printed within five minutes of the closing of poll.

The entire effort which included more than 50 meetings at the Presidency alone was scuttled.

Had EVMs been there today, my dear beloved Pakistan would have been spared this crisis.”

Talk is rife about how automation could have led to a dramatically different result:

· Reduced Errors: While hand counting is notoriously vulnerable to human errors, leading to miscalculations and inconsistencies, automation greatly reduces these failure points, ensuring accuracy and transparency.

· Faster Results: Tallying millions of votes manually takes days, the perfect breeding ground for anxiety and speculation. Automation expedites the process by an order of magnitude, providing timely results and reducing post-election tension.

· Increased Integrity: Public skepticism about manual counting is rampant. A transparent, automated system with proper safeguards could bolster public trust in the electoral process, fostering stability and acceptance of the outcome.

· Improved Security: Allegations of vote tampering are less likely with a secure, audited electronic system. Blockchain technology could further enhance security, creating an irrefutable record of votes cast.

Pakistan does not need to look far and wide for successful references as its next-door neighbor India has had a largely successful experience with e-voting election automation. Though its electronic voting machines (EVM) are aging, the world’s largest democracy still uses them to mount large-scale elections with a decent level of credibility.

Despite their frustration, champions of election modernization need to bring every stakeholder to the discussion table one more time where it should be made clear that a peaceful and orderly transfer of power is imperative if Pakistan’s fledgling democracy is to survive.