“Signing an agreement with Smartmatic will be tantamount to contracting out the elections to them as our returning officers cannot operate these machines,”
KATHMANDU, Feb 7: With the country facing the prospect of three sets of elections, top officials at the Election Commission (EC) have started discussing quietly about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and the choice of possible suppliers of the machines.
According to sources, the officials are at some odds over the choice of supplier agencies. Sources at the election body said Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav is approaching Smartmatic, a UK-based company.
Lord Mark M. Brown, the chairman of the company, arrived in Kathmandu on Monday and he is supposed to brief top political party leaders on his company's products. CEC Yadav confirmed Brown's arrival.
According to sources, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has already been briefed about the company's products, is to attend a function at the EC on Tuesday at which the equipment will be on display. Along with the prime minister, the heads of all 30 parties represented in parliament will be attending the demonstration function.
Brown has served as deputy secretary and chief of staff at the United Nations under then secretary general Kofi Annan.
Brown's visit comes at a time when a committee formed at the election body is studying how to design the ballot papers and explore prospective companies for the supply EVMs if the technology is to be adopted. Officials said the committee headed by Dipak Subedi, joint-secretary at the EC, will study the challenges of designing the ballots and the feasibility of using EVMs.
EC officials including Commissioner Ila Sharma have expressed concern regarding 'mysterious dealings' for procuring the electronic voting machines. “Technologies must be adopted but the matter has never been discussed with me,” Commissioner Sharma told Republica. EVMs from Smartmatic are relatively expensive and only trained hands from the company can handle the machines properly.
“Signing an agreement with Smartmatic will be tantamount to contracting out the elections to them as our returning officers cannot operate these machines,” said an election expert familiar with the technologies.
PM Dahal is said to have pledged Rs 2 billion for procuring the EVMs. “The government is even ready to release Rs 1 buillion to 2 billion to make the election a success,” PM Dahal said on Saturday on the weekly television program Pradhanmantrisanga Sidha Kura (straight talk with prime minister).
The soft ware-based EVMs produced by Smartmatic are considered relatively safe compared to other EVMs but they are also highly expensive and require advanced voter education for using them, according to experts. “I wonder whether voters can use them as our voter education is not so good,” said one election official.
Informed sources said it costs at least Rs 250,000 to procure one EVM. Nepal will require at least 60,000 EVM units even if the ECN conducts the local polls in two phases.
Indian EVMs are cheaper compared to Smartmatic. They cost Rs 50,000 to 60,000 per unit.
Commissioner Sharma also questioned whether the Smartmatic EVMs can be used without error as a certain level of voter education is required for handling them. She opined that other options should be explored, including the use of Indian machines. "Indian machines have been tested successfully in past elections,” she said, informing that the Indians are also willing to donate some of the machines if an agreement is reached with them.
In 2008, the EC used EVMs for the Constituent Assembly polling in Kathmandu Constituency No. 1. The EVMs were later used in six constituencies for by-elections.