MonitorsPublished on Mar 03, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII; 9

Bangladesh: Experimenting EVMs again, now in Dhaka local polls

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

The use of Election Voting Machine (EVM) in the Dhaka North and South City corporation elections on 1 February attracted global attention. The elections in the Dhaka city, divided into the above two corporations occupy an important place in the politics of the country. The Dhaka city is recognised as a trend-setter for the country’s politics. Given the prominence of the city elections, assumptions are made about the possibility of a wider use of EVMs in the country.

The nation’s experiment with the use of EVMs   is not sudden.  For the past few years, the country was thinking about introducing   EVMs. And as a test case, EVMs were used in few elections. For the first time, it was used in June 2010 in the Chittagong City Corporation election. Because of some errors, the Election Commission then stopped using it. It was reintroduced in 2016 in the Rangpur City Corporation election. In the parliamentary elections of 2018 too, the EVMs were used in six constituencies. The trend suggests increasing use of technology in the elections.

In the recently-held Dhaka city corporation election, the Election Commission purchased around 35000 EVMs from the Bangladesh Machine Tool Factory (BMTF), a company owned by the army. The BMTF had supplied the EVMs in the 2018 parliamentary elections also.  However, in  the 2018 election, the company had imported various parts of the EVMs from different countries and assembled them in Bangladesh.

Flagship programme

Fulfilling the goal of the Awami League government’s flagship Digital Bangladesh programme is reported to be the major motivation behind the introduction of the EVMs. The Digital Bangladesh programme aims at attaining development and ensure democracy and human rights, transparency, accountability, justice and delivery of government services with maximum use of technology.  Another necessity for introducing the EVM was to bring in transparency into the election.

In Bangladesh, ensuring transparency in the elections has been a challenge. Instances of booth-rigging and ballot-stuffing have been common. The EVMs are expected to reduce such instances since the perception is that it is hard to manipulate the machines. Besides, the EVMs are also better guarded against hacking, since they are not connected to any internet.

Vocal criticism

The Opposition parties, however, have expressed their reservations on the use of the EVMs. Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been vocal about its criticism and has expressed doubts about its accuracy. The BNP feels that there are opportunities for manipulating the elections even under the EVMs. The party claims that the use of EVMs is an attempt by the ruling party to keep it away from power.

The controversy surrounding the EVMs is not unique to Bangladesh. Even in the country next door, India, where the EVMs have transformed the election processes and are widely considered to be a success, controversy on EVMs still exists. The political parties, primarily the ones which lost the elections, are questioning the credibility of the EVMs.  Notably, after the 2009 parliamentary elections, the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the Opposition then, had raised doubts on the EVMs. Similarly, their opponents also made allegations of manipulation of the EVMs after the BJP’s victory in some of the State Assembly elections, especially in Utter Pradesh after 2014.  Interestingly, the allegations regarding EVMs seem to have fizzled out with the victory of the same party.  In India, currently, there is a consensus about the transparency of the EVMs.

Public confidence

The public confidence in the EVMs, however, did not emerge easily in India. EVMs had to pass through rigorous audits by the stakeholders, and also with technology upgrade. The introduction of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) attachment is an effort to ensure transparency. Besides, the Election Commission of India did various awareness campaigns and also invited critics to ‘hackathon’ to boost public trust.

Of late, EVMs are gaining popularity in other countries in Asia and South America also.   Around 31 countries have either used or studied EVMs and four countries have used them in the national polls. Some of the big democracies like Brazil and the Philippines are using EVM. However, it is worth to note that some of the technologically advanced nations like the United States have banned EVMs.

Since the EVMs are relatively new in Bangladesh, the country has immense potential to learn from the experiences across the globe and improve both at the level of policy and technology. However, the country also needs to take note of the apprehensions raised in the country and put emphasis on improving public confidence by sharing informations about the positives of the new technologies to avoid misleading propaganda.

Simultaneously, arrangement should also be made for research and development of the technology. In this regard, the focus should be on upgrading the technology to prevent doubts about manipulation of the EVMs.

Nepal: Looking back at two years of Oli Govt

Sohini Nayak

P. Sharma Oli had taken over as the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal in February 2018, a responsibility which he was donning for the second time, after 2016. His victory was a well-celebrated  occasion, given the immense support received from the UCPN-Maoists, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, the Madhesi Rights Forum-Democratic and 13 other smaller parties, thereby enabling the defeat of the Nepali Congress under the leadership of Sher Bahadur Deuba.

It was also for the very first time that the small Himalayan country saw the Left Alliance of the CPN-UML led by Oli and the CPN-Maoist Centre, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda. The elections had brought about an astounding majority for the coalition as they secured 39 out of 59 seats in the Upper House of the Parliament along with 174 out of 275 seats in the Provincial and Parliamentary polls, giving hopes of stability, growth and development in the country.

Two years is a short time in a nation’s life, but a long term for many others, including contemporary policy shifts, changes and directions, institutional improvements and visible decay, if any.

Striking a balance

There was speculations of Oli being very close to communist China, much to the dismay of India. This was the perfect time for Nepal to strike a chord between the two major powers of the region to ensure stability in its position as it is well aware of its dependence on them as well as its state of a ‘buffer’.

The year 2018 was witness to very important visits from India to Nepal as well as Oli’s visit to China. Right after the elections, when the then Indian Minister of External Affairs, late Sushma Swaraj, visited Kathmandu to draw amicable ties with the new government, it was also a “China card”. 2018 also saw the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal.

This was a way to commence a new relationship after the devastating 2015 India-Nepal blockade that has remained etched in the memories of the Nepalese population with anti-Indian sentiments.  Prime Minister Oli had been, however, flexibly dealing with the situation. He was well aware that being a part of the One Belt One Road Project of China for its internal development was equally important along with the two-thirds trade with India for things of daily necessity.

Nonetheless, with the passage of time, we have seen a more or less higher inclination of Nepal towards China, which includes basic accessibility to the dragon in vital facilities like port and internet broadband connectivity. Whereas critical hydroelectric power projects like Arun III with India are still not complete, Chinese cross border connectivity projects like railway link between Gyirong trading port in the city of Xigaze in Tibet and Kathamndu are on the verge of completion.

In this situation, it must be remembered by Nepal and Oli that the open border between itself and India is still vulnerable and it has to exist beside it in terms of its geographical location. So, taking away leverage from India regarding access Nepal with regard to trade and connectivity and completely giving it away to China might not be a very good decision.

Moreover, Nepal, at the moment is also faced with challenges like the border dispute with India, over the Kalapani territory, which PM Oli has not been able to resolve. Given India and China’s agreements over accessing the territory near Kalapani, which gives India direct pass  to Tibet, Nepal would be like a third element with insecurity that has neither India nor China as a friend and ally. Given this critical strategic ambience, Oli must take steps very cautiously.  Oli has attempted to bring about balance in the dynamics but unfortunately the picture is not as rosy.

Evolving economy

In order to make Nepal heard and taken seriously as an evolving economy in South Asia, Nepal must not let go off opportunities like participating in the Millennium Challenge Corporation or MCC with the United States of America or for that matter having its say regarding the Indo-Pacific power-play, which it had rejected to be a part of.

A country is precisely the reflection of its leader and so K.P Oli must reconsider and take these issues in diplomacy seriously to be able to access other important countries in the extended neighbourhood. Be it the ASEAN countries or the Gulf countries, engagements like the MCC or becoming party to the Indo-pacific dialogues would help in widening the horizon of Nepal and move beyond its land-locked nature. There is still time for Oli to realize this and take action in addition to what already has been accomplished in the last two years.

Country Reports


Peace deal signed

On 29 February, the United States and the Taliban formally signed a peace deal in Doha. The signing of the deal will lead to US troop withdrawal, initiation of an intra-Afghan dialogue and a release of close to 5000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons, confirmed Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson of the political office of the Taliban in Qatar.

Corona virus threat

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) stated on 27 February 2020 that it had registered 15 cases of the coronavirus thus far, in Kabul, Baghlan, Heart and Ghor provinces. Out of the 10 cases found in Kabul, 5 were tested negative. The Afghan government has allocated $25 million for the fight against the virus in the country.


Khaleda denied bail

The bail petition of the Begum Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister and Chairperson of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was rejected by the High Court. Begum Zia, former Prime Minister, is serving a five-year jail sentence on charges of corruption. The bail was sought on health and humanitarian grounds as she had been suffering from diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cough variant asthma, back pain and rheumatoid arthritis and plan to travel abroad for treatment.

Japanese firms to invest $6.4b

Large Japanese private sector companies are planning to invest $6.4 billion to implement six infrastructure projects in Bangladesh. The projects will be under the public-private partnership model. The Japanese companies who are likely to be involved are Kajima, Sojitz and Marubeni. The government had submitted a list of 18 projects to the Japanese government in December 2017. Japanese government, however, selected six projects from the list.


Increase in hydro-power

Substantial increase has been witnessed in the hydropower potential and it availability in the country.  According to the Power System Master Plan 2040 (PSMP-2040), currently Bhutan has hydro-power potentiality and availability of around 37GW from 155 identified sites, including existing power plants. Notably PSMP is revision of the e PSMP-2004. Notably, the 2008 Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development policy estimated the overall hydropower potential of the country at 30GW with production capability of about 120,000 GW.

King's birthday fete

In a bid to bring in innovation in the celebration of the 40th Birthday of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck's, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering urged people to adopt a stray dog and plant a tree. This gesture has earned accolade globally for the  humane way of dealing with the problem of stay dogs in the country and corresponds with its motto of gross national happiness.  Bhutan has seen a surge in population of stray dogs and has become a menace since number of dog bites have increased.


Violence at CAA protest

Large-scale communal violence started in Delhi from last week which got triggered over the ongoing protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019.  The casualties of the violence are eventually increasing as spasms of unrest still continue in the riot-affected areas. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has met the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal, and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to take stock of the security situation. All the major political parties have appealed for calm in the capital city. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has also demanded the resignation of the Union Home Minister over his inability to control the violence.


Decentralisation on

The Health Ministry has handed over Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP) projects valued below MVR 5 million to local councils, as per the eighth amendment to the Decentralisation Act.A total of 20 projects, collectively worth more than MVR 48.1 million, were handed over to 20 island councils after the ministry prepared blueprints, tender documents and bills of quantities. The councils will be tasked with announcing the projects, commencing the tender process and assigning contracts. However, the Health Ministry will still provide the technical assistance and quality-control throughout the process. The Ministry has said that the handover of projects, including hospital extension plans and laboratory establishment, would allow convenient monitoring of the projects' progress on a regular basis.

Campaign crowds

The relatively larger number of people gathering at the Opposition PPM-PNC combine’s campaign for the nation-wide local council polls in capital Male with party boss and former President Abdulla Yameen in prison, has warmed up the cadre-morale. In comparison and keeping up with a trend, the ruling MDP’s crowds were thinner, despite it having the largest number of registered members, both in the country and in Male city, too. Party officials has since rushed in to claim that despite the poor showing in the poll rally, the MDP would  win the Male City Council. In the past elections since the advent of multi-party democracy in Maldives, the MDP has retained Male and Addu City Councils and also local councils in other population centres, with high sat and vote-shares.


President’s India visit

Myanmar and India have strengthened their bilateral ties by signing 10 Memorandum of Understandings on 27 February in New Delhi. The MOUs were on prevention of human trafficking, environmental protection, petroleum product cooperation, health research, communications cooperation, and four on Rakhine State development.   President U Win Myint met with Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovind and discussed regarding various issues.  India seeks to engage with Myanmar under its Act East and Neighbourhood First policies initiated by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is the fifth-largest trading partner of Myanmar. Bilateral trade between the two grew 8 percent during 2018-19, and their trade is worth $1.7 billion.

Electrification expanded

The Mandalay Electricity Supply Corporation, Electricity Supply Enterprise, Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MoEE) and Hitachi Soe Electric & Machinery (HISEM) have signed a contract agreement in Myanmar capital city Nay Pyi Taw for the second phase of National Electrification Project. Myanmar Union Minister for Electricity and Energy U Win Khaing said that the electrification project has been initiated after the country received a $310m loan from the World Bank. The minister noted that the second phase of the NEP aims to complete electrification works across 4,700 villages, which are located within five miles of the system.


New political map

A new political map of Nepal with all the territories that have been encroached by India is on the verge of completion and release. A technical team of the Department of Survey has undertaken the responsibility of completing the task. Given the present circumstance over Kalapani, situation seems to be becoming tenser. The government of Nepal has also addressed questions regarding landless people and very soon special laws would be implemented to do away with any controversy or speculation.


Imran in Qatar

Prime Minister Imran Khan started his day-long visit to Qatar on 27 February. The visit comes two days prior to the US-Taliban peace deal to be signed in Doha. Accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Imran lauded the role played by Qatar in US-Taliban talks during his meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. Both leaders focused on the bilateral ties in diverse fields including defence, trade and cultural exchanges. The US-Taliban peace deal will be attended by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Agreement with IMF

International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan reached a staff-level agreement after resolving outstanding issues under Extended Fund Facility (EFF).According to hand-out issued by IMF mission chief in Pakistan, Pakistan will get IMF funds to the tune of $ 450 million if the agreement is approved by IMF Management in April.

Operation ‘Swift Retort’

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) celebrated the first anniversary of Operation Swift Retort on 27 February 2020 at its headquarters in Islamabad. According to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, the commemoration marked Pakistan’s “victory” in Operation Swift Retort in which two Indian Air Force planes were “downed in a dogfight” that had violated Pakistan’s airspace. The PAF chief said Pakistan is facing diversified challenges but its air force has consolidated in last two decades with solidified professional training and capability. He assured the nation about the preparedness of PAF to protect the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan. The Pakistani army through its Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) celebrated the day as a resolve against any aggression.

Sri Lanka

UNP break looks certain

With President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa expected to dissolve Parliament any time soon, with fresh elections to follow by April, a few months before the original due date of mid-August, the Opposition UNP still finds its difficult to settle its leadership tussle. The party’s working committee, identified with former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has reiterated its decision to contest the parliamentary polls on the official ‘Elephant’ symbol while Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa has registered a new political party with the Election Commission, choosing the ‘Swan’ symbol, instead. Though the party has given freedom for Premadasa to choose allies and also UNP nominees for the elections, they fear that the Ranil leadership may still control the allotment of party symbol to those chosen by their leader., leading to confusion and consternation during the run-up to the polls.

UNHRC pressure

After the Government declared its intention to walk out of the UNHRC resolutions on ‘war crimes probe’ and ‘accountability issues’, members of the West-centric ‘core group’ has declared that it cannot be done until after Sri Lanka came up for review in the March 2021 session of the Council. Nations, including the UK, Canada and France, have also urged Sri Lanka to reconsider its decision on ‘walk-out’. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has since clarified that the Government would continue with the previous regime’s domestic mechanisms for the purpose and was only against their decision to cooperate with the West on ‘internationalising’ the issue and the probes.

No to Gota pix

The President’s Media Division has advised people not to display photographs and portraits of incumbent Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in public places. While expressing gratitude to people for doing so, President Gotabhaya has requested them not to do so in the future, the statement added.



Opinion Pieces

Douglas London, “Why the Taliban Will Never Agree to a Real Peace Deal”, The New York Times, 27 February 2020

Peter Bergen, “What Trump’s ‘peace’ agreement with the Taliban really means”, CNN, 27 February 2020


The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Concern over Vulnerability of Peace Talks”, 26February 2020

The Kabul Times, “International Cooperation Key to Fight Coronavirus”, 26 February 2020


Opinion Pieces

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, “How digital inclusion made Bangladesh a standout South Asian economy”, World Economic Forum, 26 February 2020

KaziAnwarulMasud, “The Challenges Facing The World Today: The Case Of Bangladesh”,Eurasia Review, 28 February 2020


Opinion Pieces

Dr.S.Chandrasekharan, “Bhutan: Vision Statement Of 2020, Is It Relevant Now?”, Eurasia Review, 22 February, 2020


Opinion Pieces

Pratap  Bhanu Mehta, “The Delhi darkness: Our rulers want an India that thrives on cruelty, fear, division, violence”, The Indian Express, 29 February 2020

Praveen Chakravarty, “Aadhaar, no standout performer in welfare delivery”, The Hindu, 28 February 2020

Harish Khare, “Hope, belief, and the candles of Shaheen Bagh”, The Hindu, 28 February 2020      Editorials

The Indian Express, “With due respect”, 29 February 2020

The Hindu, “Minimum government: On breakdown of governance in Delhi”, 29 February 2020

The Hindu, “A browning east: On climate change and the Eastern Ghats”, 28 February 2020

The Hindu, “Signs and substance: On outcome of Trump visit”, 27 February 2020



Avas, “With ex-Gender Minister’s resignation, assault issues submerged”, 28 February 2020


Opinion Pieces

Aung Zaw, “Myanmar’s Wa Rebels Procure a Helicopter: What’s Next?”, The Irrawaddy, 28 February 2020

Joe Kumbun, “Indo-Myanmar Ties Should Go Beyond Geopolitical Interests”, The Irrawaddy, 27 February 2020

David Scott Mathieson, “In ‘Pacified’ Eastern Myanmar, the Military Is Free to Pursue Its Agenda”, The Irrawaddy, 26 February 2020


Opinion Pieces

Tulasi Acharya, “Accept the criticisms”, Republica, 29 February 2020

Prashanta Khanal, “Kathmandu: A city in despair”, The Kathmandu Post, 23 February 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Nepal Airlines is flying blind”, 26 February 2020


Opinion Pieces

SakibSherani, “What next?Dawn, 28 February 2020.

Rashid Amjad, “IMF: critical choicesDawn, 27 February 2020.

Rustam Shah Mahmand, “Afghan peace deal and the hazards ahead”, The Express Tribune, 28 February 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

D B S Jeyaraj, “Arrest, detention and release of ‘Tiger 12’ in Malaysia”, Daily Mirror Online, 29 February 2020

M S M Ayub,Coalitions not coalesced with principles”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 Fbruary 2020

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, “UN must respect Sri Lankan traditions”, The Island, 28 February 2020

Jehan Perera, “Govt needs to consider minority sentiment”, The Island, 25 February 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Walking out of the UNHRC process”, Ceylon Today, 25 February 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Tamil politics after UNHRC exit”, Colombo Gazette, 24 February 2020


Kelum Bandara, “Country cannot afford any more external borrowing: Bandula”, Daily Mirror Online, 28 February 2020

Jaliya Husain, “Military committing war crimes during final stages of civil conflict Allegations levelled are false and baseless:-Daya Ratnayake”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 February 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Pakistan: Ayjaz Ahmad Wani

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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