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Human error or software failure: Why Pakistan poll results suffered long delays?

Published: Updated:

The long delays in announcement of results following the recent elections in Pakistan have raised questions about the efficiency of its Result Management System (RMS) software, which was employed by the country’s election commission.

However, a Dubai-based expert on e-system has told Al Arabiya English that it is not the technology but the manner of its implementation that should be scrutinized as such a system can be fixed quickly even if it goes down.

Sarfaraz Alam, who is heading TEXPO Group, a Middle East-based Information Technology Company, said there is no reason why system of such size can collapse.

“I understand that 85,000 end-points were required to be connected and submitting data at the same time, but that’s normal for projects of this magnitude,” he said.

According to Alam, mission critical websites or applications on the servers in any country serve billions of concurrent connections. Pakistan national Alam’s company provides IT and systems solutions to several Gulf-based governments as well as privately owned businesses.

For this year’s elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had placed RMS for obtaining online computed results from Returning Officers from each constituency.

However, the system failed to perform on the Election Day, raising questions on the credibility of the entire electoral process.

‘Official results’

On July 25, election for both national and provincial assemblies across Pakistan was conducted and till date, the ECP has not been able to provide complete official results. The ECP blamed the failure of RMS (Result Management System) for the delay in announcing the results.

According to the ECP, RMS which cost Pakistani Rupees 850 million was developed by NADRA (National Database & Registration Authority) and was funded by UNDP. It faced technical problems after which the announcements of results suffered long delays.

Alam says such long delays do not make sense as the RTS was developed by NADRA, which has expertise in large-scale solutions development of such scale. He believes it is very unlikely that technical abilities were a factor in the failure of the system.

“Especially when the developers knew that the system scope from the very start would be submitting data. That means that system must have gone through rigorous User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and System Architecture Testing before going live,” he said.

Alam said there is a possibility for the system to go down but giving the excuse that it was not fixed in hours or even days, is not acceptable. “It take minutes to bring it back unless a sudden hardware problem occurs, nevertheless, that’s why the concept of redundancy kicks in.”

Possible reasons

Alam believes that there could be three major reasons for the software failure. “According to my understanding, this technical collapse might occur because of lack of training to the people who were supposed to use the system,” he says.

He wonders whether the system users were informed about the contingency route. He also asks several pertinent questions. “Was the system hacked or attacked by malicious sources? Why the problem was not fixed immediately?” he asked.

According to him, it is criminal to suggest that it was due to high load as a system of such sensitivity should never halt due to load.

“Even if external fiddling happened into the server, but then again, it’s not that hard to plan against such attacks. There are plenty of websites which are routinely attacked and never fail,” says Alam.
“A couple of senior system experts can determine the cause within minutes, if not hours. The intent and will, would play and important role here,” Alam added.

Call for inquiry

Alam says this basic e-system failure should be subjected to high level inquiry. “Any mess with the system is a serious crime and authorities should take serious note of that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Senate Committee for Interior Chairman and Coordinator for Election Security Senator, Rehman Malik, has written a letter to the ECP.

According to local media reports, Rehman Malik has enquired about the technical reasons behind the fault in Transmission of Results System (TRS) and Results Management System (RMS).

Many like him are asking why the fault occurred as it is creating doubts in the minds of political parties and their leaders in and outside Pakistan.

Even though election seasons is over for now in Pakistan, questions related to the system’s efficiency, and the people running it, will remain relevant.