New Delhi: Even as the Opposition parties in India demand a rollback to paper ballots after doubts surfaced about the authenticity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and malfunctioning of Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT) machines, Namibia has started negotiating with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to place bulk orders for VVPAT-enabled EVMs.
The Electoral Commission of Namibia is in talks with BEL, one of the two public sector units (PSUs) which manufacture EVMs, to supply VVPATs for their national and presidential elections scheduled to be held in November 2019.
“In order to ensure compatibility we have received demands from political parties to make use of the VVPAT together with EVMs," Paul John Isaak, chief electoral officer of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), has told India’s Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat in a letter. A copy of this letter is with Livemint.
ECN is now working with BEL’s engineers to develop a VVPAT that is uniquely configured and customised to meet the requirements of Namibia.
Namibia’s success with EVMs in 2014-15
Having enjoyed the convenience and speed of EVMs as compared to the traditional paper ballot system during the 2014 presidential and National Assembly elections and again in the 2015 regional council and local authorities elections, Namibia wants an upgrade to VVPATs. The move will also help its election watchdog silence critics who fear tampering of EVMs to favour a particular political party.
“BEL had supplied EVMs to Namibia during 2014 and 2015 and now they have expressed interest in procuring VVPATs from us," BEL chairman and managing director MV Gowtama told Livemint, adding that the quantum of the order is not yet known.
In 2014 and 2015, BEL had supplied 7,850 ballot units to Namibia.
The country was also the first African nation to have used such electronic devices during polling. And for BEL, Namibia has been the only EVM market besides India.
BEL negotiating with other countries for EVM export
“BEL is in discussions with many friendly countries for export of EVM-based electoral solutions," Gowtama said.
Namibia’s election commissioner points out that the country’s Electoral Act 2014 requires the use of VVPAT during elections.
BEL needs clearance from Election Commission of India (ECI) before selling any EVMs or VVPAT to a foreign country. Besides BEL, Electronics Corporation of India is the only other company, another PSU, that manufactures EVMs and VVPATs.
Both BEL and Namibia are now trying to persuade ECI to grant the mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC).
“The NOC from ECI is under consideration," BEL’s CMD said.
Namibia wants BEL to demonstrate VVPATs this August as it has already started preparations for the 2019 elections so that the necessary legal, financial and logistics provisions are made on time.
In India, on the other hand, both EVMs and VVPATs have been a subject of controversy in political discourse since last year. The issue, which began with Mayawati raising the allegation of EVM tampering after being thrashed badly in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, reached a high point when the Congress demanded earlier this year that India should skip EVMs and revert to paper ballots.
VVPATs have now become another headache for the Election Commission of India following large-scale failure of these paper trail devices during by-elections in May.
A group of 17 Opposition political parties is planning to jointly move the Election Commission asking it to revert to paper ballots in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
For the Election Commission, VVPAT devices bring transparency to the voting process and act as a tool to counter all allegations of rigging as the voter can see who he or she has voted for with the help of a slip. The electorate, however, is not allowed to take the piece of paper back home as it automatically falls into a storage box.