An informal meeting of Election Commissioners from SAARC countries that began here on Sunday is discussing resource building in Afghanistan and the cooperation of SAARC countries to help fortify the strife-torn region’s capacity to hold elections when inflow of money and other aid from NATO allies begin to wane.

The meeting, which is the second of its kind after the first one held at Islamabad earlier this year, is also discussing informal advice from SAARC to the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) Region, and Jordan in particular, on electoral reforms and running elections.

The meeting, which will conclude on Monday, will also discuss SAARC cooperation over plans to develop training institutes and academies, either in New Delhi or Islamabad or elsewhere in the region on bettering electoral practices.

The two-day meet, apart from these, is discussing the possibilities of extending the use of electronic voting machines to more SAARC countries. With the impact of the EVMs on speedy elections being discussed, more than one country on Sunday announced that the machine would be part of its electoral process shortly.

Justice Hamid Ali Mirza, Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, talking to media persons, said his country, like India, was facing the problem of paid news and other election malpractices and that laws to tackle the menace of paid news would be enacted in Pakistan soon. The use of EVMs, like in India, would be popularised in Pakistan too, he said.

The election commissioners of Bhutan, Afghanistan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka also echoed Mr. Mirza’s views, saying that the usage of EVMs in India was an example for them and that legal amendments would be thought of to see that EVMS were made popular to ensure free and fair polls in their countries.

The meeting, according to Anil Seal, Advisor to the Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections (FAME) and director, Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust, which are organizing the event, said the election commissioners also discussed in detail, manners in which the recently signed SAARC charter of cooperation on electoral matters could be taken forward.

India’s Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said the main concerns of elections commissions in SAARC countries, including India, revolved around increasing the credibility of election management bodies and increasing the involvement of people in the process. The Indian Election Commission would continue to “come down heavily” on instances of paid news, he said.

The participants, mainly from SAARC Electoral commissions, included General Ayub Assil, vice-president, Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, Chief Election Commissioner,

Bhutan, Ahmed Fayaz Hassan, Vice chairman, Election Commission of Maldives, Neel Kanth Uprety, CEC, Nepal and M.M. Mohammed, Senior Deputy Commissioner of Elections, Sri Lanka among others.

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