4 YEARS OF GOVT
Nothing done to strengthen ECTaib Ahmed
The ruling Awami League appears to have done nothing to strengthen the Election Commission in its four years in government although it promised to reform electoral laws for the commission’s strengthening.
Some of the steps, including the appointment of ‘partisan people’ as commissioners, the government has taken so far, rather, created obstacles to an independent functioning of the commission.
Some EC officials also alleged that the government many times tried to make the commission work on its instructions in some of the recent polls.
Former election commissioners, experts and even some politicians also said that the 15th amendment to the constitution would weaken the commission in holding general elections with the provision in place for having the incumbent government in office at election time.
The 15th amendment effected in 2011 abolished the provision for a non-party, caretaker government at election time, giving birth to fresh debates about the credibility of elections under ruling party.
Many political parties consider Article 123 as it is in the constitution after the 15th amendment an obstacle to free, fair and acceptable polls as the provision retains privileges of sitting members of the parliament, even if they run in the elections, which other contestants are denied.
By way of this provision, sitting lawmakers running in elections would enjoy all their facilities during electioneering.
‘The Awami League has taken no visible steps to strengthen the commission. The way current election commissioners were appointed is also questionable,’ Dhaka University law teacher Asif Nazrul said.
‘Some of them [election commissioners] are known to be Awami League men,’ he added. ‘Besides, the annulment of the caretaker government will put the commission in trouble in functioning fairly.’
The immediate-past chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda on a number
of occasions said that the commission had worked freely under a non-party, caretaker government.
‘The government has rather taken steps which weakened the commission let alone strengthening it,’ the Sushashoner Janya Nagarik secretary, Badiul Alam Majumder, said.
‘It is very unfortunate that the Awami League which put forth electoral reform proposals first in 2005 did nothing in its four years,’ he said alleging that the government had dropped ‘most of the proposals for reforms’ in electoral laws.
He also questioned the appointment of election commissioners. ‘Many say that some election commissioners are know for being affiliated to the ruling Awami League,’ he added.
‘The functioning of the commission largely depends on the mentality of the commissioners,’ he noted.
He also said that the ruling party had not followed the Representation of the People Order of 1972.
Immediate-past election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain said that although the Awami League government had accepted some of their reform proposals, it rejected some others, including the introduction of ‘no vote’ and the enactment of a law for the appointment of election commissioners.
‘There are some intangible factors which matter in holding the fair general elections,’ he said.
‘The functioning of the commission heavily depends on the mentality of the incumbent government. Some other institutions such as political forces and the judiciary must also cooperate with it in running the affairs properly,’ Sakhawat said. ‘But things are not in that direction now.’
‘The commission can make a decision independently but what is important is who will execute the decision. If the president does not cooperate with the commission, which institution will make the president accountable?’ the former election commissioner said.
Sakhawat stressed the need for a law on the appointment of chief and other election commissioners in a way so that the chief election commissioner can be made from among election commissioners as is done in many countries.
‘In our system, a set of completely inexperienced people are appointed election commissioners. It does not help to strengthen the commission,’ he said.
In reply to a question, he said, ‘From whatever we have seen of the commission does not leads us to believe that it has earned the capability to run its affairs fairly.’
Sakhawat said that the commission should have discussed with political parties how a level playing field could be ensured for all contestants in parliamentary elections in the wake of the 15th amendment to the constitution.
The Awami League AL sat for dialogues with the the ATM Shamsul Huda-led commission and with the present commission. But it put forth no significant electoral reforms proposals.
Accusing the immediate past BNP-Jamaat government of turning the commission into a loyalist organ, the Awami League in its election manifesto pledged to continue with electoral reforms initiated by the then military-driven caretaker government.
‘The Election Commission was turned into a loyalist organ and election engineering was resorted to so that the BNP-Jamaat alliance could win the elections due in January 2007 and permanently enjoy power,’ the Awami League’s election manifesto reads.
Welcoming the then caretaker government for carrying out electoral reforms, the Awami League promised to continue with the reforms.
‘The caretaker government has reformed electoral laws and the procedure. The ongoing reforms programme of the Election Commission and electoral system will continue,’ the manifesto says.
The president reconstituted the election commission in February 2012 which will hold the next general elections scheduled at the latest by January 24, 2014.
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