The last two election commissions, particularly the Nurul Huda commission, have destroyed our election system and robbed us of our voting rights, with a naked display of their bias. As a result, a crisis in confidence looms large in front of the newly formed Kazi Habibul Awal commission. Broadly speaking there are three initiatives the commission can take to dispel this crisis in confidence. Firstly, they can take some preparatory measures of their own. Secondly, they can set their own house in order. And thirdly, they can strictly enforce the existing rules and regulations.

 Preparatory measures

An important initiative of the newly formed Awal commission can be to carry out a minute analysis of the past two national elections and take lessons from this. The objective of this exercise will be to identify the failures and shortcomings of the past two election commissions so that these are not repeated and that the existing rules and regulations can be applied. Such an analysis will also reveal the areas of failure of the other stakeholders, particularly the law enforcement agencies and administrative officials of the state, with regard to these two failed elections.

According to Article 125 (c) of the constitution, “A court shall not pass any order or direction, ad interim or otherwise, in relation to an election for which schedule has been announced, unless the Election Commission has been given reasonable notice and an opportunity of being heard.”

Alongside the sidestepping of this constitutional directive, a review of the role of our Supreme Court is also essential. Incidentally, it was because of the support from the Supreme Court that India’s almost legendary CEC TN Seshan was so successful.

In the past the election commission held dialogue with various stakeholders. A review of the details and reports of these dialogues can be an important preparatory measure for the commission.

 Setting own house in order

There are various allegations of offences committed by the election commission secretariat and certain officials. There are also allegations of groupings and a corrupt syndicate within the commission. These matters must be resolved.

Many of the commission’s officials connected to election activities have been involved in various election offences punishable under the Representation of People’s Order 1972 (RPO) and it is imperative that action be taken against them. Steps also must be taken regarding the allegations of violating the law brought about against certain returning officers during the eleventh parliamentary election. Another matter to be probed is the nomination papers of certain candidates being approved despite their having business interests with the government.

Ignoring the advice of the head of the expert committee, the now deceased Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, substandard EVM were allegedly purchased at exorbitant rates. It was also alleged that ‘digital fraud’ was carried out by using these machines without any political consensus, particularly during the Chittagong City Corporation elections. This needs to be investigated. If exemplary punishment is given for certain election offences, these will not be repeated in future.

Due to the failure of the past two election commissions, serious errors have surfaced in the voters’ list. As a result, though there were 1.4 million more women on the voters’ list of the ninth parliamentary election, in the present voters’ list, men outnumber women. In some districts this ‘gender gap’ is huge. The commission must take effective measures to rectify this error.

 Enforcing the rules and regulations

While there are adequate laws to conduct a free and fair election, these are often not applied. For example, RPO Section 90 has several provisions. According to Section 90 B (i) (b) (iii): ‘If any political party desires to be registered, it shall fulfill the following conditions, namely to prohibit formation of any organisation or body as its affiliated or associated body consisting of the teachers or students of any educational institution or the employees or labourers of any financial, commercial or industrial institution or establishment or the members of any other profession.’ But though our major political parties have dropped from their constitutions the provision for front and affiliated organisations, for their own narrow interests these remain in existence in the name of so-called brotherly organisations, which is completely in contradiction to the spirit of the RPO.

Also, Section 90 C (1) (e) of the RPO states, ‘A political party shall not be qualified for registration if there is any provision in its constitution for the establishment or operation of any office, branch or committee outside the territory of Bangladesh.’ In this regard too, the political parties have unethically and unlawfully maintained their overseas units, which regularly besmirch the image of the country.

Even though dialogue and discussions are the only way for a solution, the election commission’s dialogue initiative came a bit too early

Then again, according to the RPO’s Section 12 (3b), all candidates of the national election must submit an affidavit with information regarding eight matters. The objective of submitting this affidavit is to encourage honest and qualified candidates to come forward. But the existing affidavit form is not suitable to the times. Above all, the commission does not bother to scrutinise these affidavits. If this was done, many unwanted persons could have been kept away from our election arena. So the election commission as soon as possible must update the affidavit form and ensure that the affidavits are properly scrutinised. Also, online submission of the affidavit must be made compulsory, initiative must be taken to popularise the provision for ‘opposing affidavits’ and it is imperative to have provision for foreign election observers.

Finally, even though dialogue and discussions are the only way for a solution, the election commission’s dialogue initiative came a bit too early. If the election commission had first worked on the above mentioned measures for a few months and then held the dialogue, I believe that would have been more effective.

* Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar is Secretary, SHUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance)

Source: Prothom Alo | April 8, 2022