Opposition to EVM hardens
With the next parliamentary election a year and a half away, major political parties, except for the ruling Awami League, are toughening their stance against the use of Electronic Voting Machines in the polls.
The Jatiya Party (Ershad), an electoral ally of the AL, and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), a component of the AL-led 14 party alliance, have already conveyed to the Election Commission their reservations about the EVM.
The BNP and its allies have long been opposing the use of EVMs in polls, saying the devices would allow the ruling party to "steal votes".
The EVM issue came into discussion after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said EVMs would be used in all 300 constituencies in the 12th national election.
Hasina, president of the ruling AL, made the comment at a meeting of the AL Central Working Committee, the party's highest decision-making body, on May 7.
Opposition to the use of EVM in polls got louder after a chaotic scene unfolded during the last-minute announcement of unofficial results in the June 16 Cumilla City Corporation polls.
Against this backdrop, the EC initiated views-exchange meetings with all 39 registered political parties to earn their trust and clear confusion over EVM.
But the initiative suffered a huge blow as the BNP and 10 other parties skipped the talks that concluded yesterday. Five of the parties, including the BNP, are against the use of EVM in the next general election.
The JP, the main opposition in the parliament, and the JSD have also taken position against use of EVMs in the next polls.
Setting a condition for using EVM, JSD, however, said EVM can be used only after it becomes popular among voters through its use in local government elections.
The AL and its three allies support the use of EVM in the next election.
Twelve political parties, however, are doubtful about the use of EVM and seven have not taken any clear stance.
Several pollical parties made a few suggestions, saying those need to be implemented before using EVM in the general election.
At yesterday's talks, the ruling party came up with a demand for appointing public servants as presiding officers and polling officials instead of non-government officials.
Prior to the talks at the EC office, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said, "We are hearing a lot of discussions on the use of EVM [in election] since we took charge. Some were in favour of it while the majority is against it."
He said they don't have that much knowledge about EVM but as they are holding discussions and doing works on EVM, they have earned some knowledge about it.
"During the discussions, some said they would not take part in the election if it's held using EVM."
The CEC further said they are yet to make the final decision on whether to use EVMs or ballot papers in the next polls.
Many political and election analysts are of the view that the PM's comment on EVM put pressure on the EC, the sole authority to decide on the matter.
The JP, the BNP and the JSD are against the use of EVMs in the next polls, while 12 parties are doubtful about it and seven have not taken any clear stance.
Such a remark would increase the existing distrust among political parties which, according to them, would be an obstacle to holding a free, fair and inclusive election.
Talking to The Daily Star, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the EC has the absolute discretion to decide whether EVMs will be used or not in the polls.
"But the commission is now under pressure as the prime minister and a senior cabinet member said the Awami League wants EVMs in all constituencies in the polls.
"It seems the EC may opt to use EVMs in the election," he said.
In recent talks organised by the EC, several civil society members and eminent citizens also advised against using EVMs unless there is a national consensus.
If the EC decides to use EVMs in all 300 constituencies in the next polls, it will need around 4.5 lakh machines. But it now has around 1.5 lakh EVMs.
TALKS WITH EC
Apart from BNP, 10 other parties that skipped talks with the EC are Krishak Sramik Janata League, Bangladesh Jatiya Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD-Rob), Bangladesh Kalyan Party, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Bangladesh Muslim League, Liberal Democratic Party, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Socialist Party of Bangladesh and Revolutionary Workers Party.
JSD-Rob, an ally of the BNP; the CPB; Revolutionary Workers Party; and Socialist Party of Bangladesh opposed the use of EVM.
Talking to this newspaper on June 21, BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said there was no question of joining the talks with the EC.
"It is an illegal Election Commission, and it is just carrying out whatever the government instructs it," he said.
During the talks with the EC, the JP (Ershad), Gono Forum and Bangladesh National Awami Party (Bangladesh Nap) said they are against the use of EVM in the election.
The JP (Ershad) is a member of the election-time grand alliance led by the AL, while Gono Forum is a major component of opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front. Bangladesh Nap recently left the BNP-led 20-party alliance.
The AL along with its alliance partners Workers Party of Bangladesh, Samyabadi Dal and Ganatantry Party told the EC that they are in favour of EVM.
The 12 parties that raised questions about the use of EVM are Bangladesh Congress, Gana Front, Jatiyatabadi Ganotantrik Front, Bangladesh Muslim League, National People's Party, Jatiya Party (Manju), Jamiote Ulamaye Islam Bangladesh, Islamic Front Bangladesh, Islami Oikya Jote, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, Biklapadhara Bangladesh and Bangladesh Sangiskritik Muktijote, according to EC officials who were present at the talks.
AL FOR ALL-EVM JS POLLS
Following yesterday's talks with the EC, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said they are in favour of use of EVMs in all 300 constituencies in the next polls.
In reply to a query, Quader, the road transport and bridges minister, said he believes the BNP will eventually join the polls.
"We want the BNP to contest the polls. We want a competitive election. That's why we don't want a big party like the BNP to be left out …" he told reporters.
Earlier at the talks, Quader proposed that public servants be made presiding officers and polling officials in place of non-government officials.
Gono Forum representatives said that if the election is held using EVMs, the results could be changed through some mechanisms.
A leader of Bangladesh NAP said, "EVM is a reliable tool for vote rigging."
The representatives of Tariqat Federation told the EC that EVMs should be used in 150 constituencies.