Pakistan’s election commission’s new app to swiftly transmit and tabulate election results is in the crosshairs due to concerns raised by some officials about the possibility of manipulation of the software to impact the outcome of the polls on Thursday.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) prepared the Election Management System (EMS) app for transmission of results from each polling station to a centralised system where tabulation of all results would be completed by the Returning Offices, who are in charge of preparing and releasing the result of each constituency.
The ECP is set to use the system on February 8 after claiming that the countrywide test run of EMS has been a “success”. However, two election officials in Sindh province have pointed out faults in the EMS after the second test run last week.
Abdul Qadir Mashori, the Qambar assistant commissioner (AC) and Returning Officer (RO) for National Assembly seat NA-197 (Qambar-Shahdadkot-II); and Usman Khaskheli, the Bakrani AC and RO for PS-12 (Larkana-III) seat of Sindh Assembly, have written letters to their superiors, conveying almost identical issues regarding the EMS. Mashori’s letter, which emerged on Sunday, was sent to the Qambar-Shahdadkot district returning officer on February 3. Mashori told the Dawn newspaper that the issues he had pointed out were later resolved and that he had conveyed the same in a follow-up letter.
Mashori in his letter has stated that the data regarding duties assigned to polling officials were uploaded to the EMS, which was later “found missing”. “This weakness of [the] system has created many issues and also raises [a] question mark on the reliability and validity of the software.” The official expressed apprehension that either the system was an “utter failure” or was being “controlled” by someone.
The report also quoted sources confirming that Khaskheli also wrote a similar letter addressed to the Larkana district returning officer (DRO).
The ECP through a letter addressed to all four provincial election commissioners issued standard operating procedures and guidelines to hold a mock exercise of EMS on January 26, according to a report by the Dawn newspaper.
Senator Taj Haider, in charge of the election cell of the Pakistan Peoples Party through a letter of January 29, addressed to the ECP, expressed concern about the possible misuse of EMS.
“We have the honour to bring to your notice our serious objections to the introduction of a completely new and unfamiliar application (EMS Mobile App) for electronic transmission of Result of Count (Form 45) from Presiding Officers to Returning Officers,” he wrote.
After the criticism and complaints, the ECP had to come out in defence of the EMS, which has become the subject of a growing controversy.
The ECP Secretary Syed Asif Hussain ruled out any possibility of manipulation while addressing a press conference on Monday.
He said that the EMS would work even if the internet failed, as returning officers would still be able to compile all results offline. He said more than 60 ROs in remote areas had also been provided with satellite connectivity to keep them connected.
Reporters also posed similar questions to the project director of the ECP’s Project Management Unit (PMU), Colonel Saad. When asked about the possibility of the EMS being hacked and the results being manipulated to favour a specific political party, Saad said the system had all the security features of an international standard application and would run on a secure private network which would be accessible only to specific individuals on a pre-approved white list.
On the allegation that the system may be manipulated, Saad said he had spoken personally with the returning officer who suggested that somebody else might be controlling the system. “The problem faced by the RO has been resolved,” he said.