The Platform


Elections are the cornerstone of the democratic process in developing countries. In Bangladesh, its politics is becoming more contentious ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. Awami League and BNP, the two major political parties, hold opposing views on several critical issues, including the use of e-voting.

Electronic voting is a vital tool for e-governance.

In spite of objections from the political parties, e-voting was first deployed in 2010. Unfortunately, technical issues were discovered. In June, the electoral commission held what many consider a dry run in using e-voting. The results were considerably better.

The electoral commission has decided to use e-voting in a limited number of locations for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said, “[e-voting] will be used in all 300 seats in the upcoming national election.”

However, in February, Kazi Habibul Awal, the electoral commissioner, said, “I cannot say what decision will be made regarding [e-voting]. We will discuss the pros and cons of [e-voting]. Along with this, we will also look at the pros and cons of the ballot. A decision can be taken later because I myself do not understand [e-voting].”

SHUJAN, a group founded in 2002 and focused on good governance, claims that there is a severe lack of transparency around e-voting, particularly the audit cards used to collect election results, which are theoretically vulnerable to manipulation in the absence of a paper audit trail that can be verified. Additionally, there are concerns that e-voting could be overwritten by election officials.

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Mohammad Kaykobad, two prominent scholars, have argued that voters should feel confident about the use of e-voting. “You have to be confident about your country. [E-voting machines] can be operated easily. Machines are not [100%] safe, but we are happy [with them],” Iqbal has said.

A total of 31 countries in the world have relied on e-voting. Germany, Ireland, England, France, and Italy have banned e-voting machines due to flaws and weaknesses related to security, accuracy, reliability, and verification.

Transparency International Bangladesh has advised the electoral commission to decide whether to use e-voting only after ensuring it is free of large-scale technical problems. Electoral commission head Kazi Habibul Awal has said the commission had not found any forgery or flaws related to the new system.

Currently, there is no political accord between the two major political parties. Awami League and BNP hold contradictory positions on the issue of e-voting. The BNP and other opposition parties oppose the use of e-voting. The electoral commission obviously doesn’t hold the same reservations about the new system otherwise they wouldn’t have purchased 200,000 new machines.

While e-voting faced some issues in 2010, the question remains whether the new technology can be used effectively on a much larger scale across the whole of the country.

Opposition parties, civil society groups, and democracy activists are skeptical about the success of this new technology. And with political violence on the rise, the government can’t afford to get the upcoming parliamentary elections wrong.

What happened in the United States when a former president falsely claimed he was robbed of a second term and his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol could happen in Bangladesh, but on a much more violent scale.

In either case, the government needs to ensure that the election is seen as a success and free of any significant issues.

MD Obaidullah Siam holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Barishal, Bangladesh. Currently, he is working as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka. He regularly writes on the topics of Public Policy, Politics and Governance, Sustainable Development, and Climate Change.