Ex-NADRA chair argues more biometrics use can greatly improve Pakistan’s elections
A former Chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan (NADRA), Tariq Malik, has posited that the deployment of cutting-edge technologies such as biometrics can significantly change Pakistan’s elections management story for the good.
Malik, a Pakistani himself, makes the argument in a thought piece for Development Advocate Pakistan, a publication of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). He believes that “by embracing technology-driven solutions, Pakistan can promote transparency, accountability, and timely electoral outcomes.”
In his article, “Buttons To Ballots: Technology and Pakistan’s Elections,” Malik, who is also a former chief technical advisor at the UNDP, notes that by making the most of cutting-edge technology, the country can surmount geographical barriers, streamline the elections management process, and improve security measures, which are all necessary for entrenching trust in the democratic process.
“I believe that using digital technology can enhance electoral integrity. In Pakistan, the integration of technology into electoral politics holds tremendous potential for enhancing access, efficiency, security, and integrity in the electoral process,” Malik posits.
He acknowledges that while efforts have already been made to set the template for technology-driven elections in Pakistan through the “One CNIC – One Vote” principle championed by NADRA which increased voter participation and inclusion, the process can be made better.
“The integration of technology also promises to significantly increase the efficiency of elections in Pakistan. Biometric voter authentication systems can expedite the identification process, leading to smoother and faster voting procedures,” Malik writes.
“Furthermore, automating data collection and management can enhance efficiency in election administration, facilitating the verification of voter lists, monitoring campaign finances, and ensuring compliance with electoral regulations.”
Emphasizing the aspect of security, the ex-NADRA boss states: “technology can play a crucial role in fortifying Pakistan’s electoral system. Implementing robust cybersecurity measures, encryption protocols, and secure communication channels, can minimize the risk of tampering with voter data, results and critical election infrastructure.”
For all of these innovations to be introduced however, Malik says it is important for the Pakistani government to put in place the requisite legal framework and institutional and infrastructural investment plan.
He also suggests that given the “overpowering reactions against some radical reforms in the past, a transitional approach with vertical integration of technology in electoral processes seems to be a more viable option in Pakistan.”
With foundational blocks already in place, Malik holds that it is worthwhile to bring in innovations that cover all aspects of the electoral cycle including “data analytics for predictive analysis, real-time monitoring through video surveillance systems, education and awareness through online platforms, mobile applications and social media campaigns, among others.”
He also urges political parties in the country to embrace digital innovations which can streamline how their services are accessed, what he calls a “digital vision.”