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Govt undermines EC’s role

Taib Ahmed

Steps taken by the Awami League and ‘lack of a pro-active’ role by the incumbent election commissioners have ‘weakened’ the Election Commission though the ruling party in its election manifesto had pledged five years back to strengthen the constitutional body.
Jurists and academics made the observation while giving to New Age an analysis of the steps taken by the AL as well as by the election commissioners in the last five years.
In its election manifesto in 2008, the AL had promised to carry out reforms of electoral laws to strengthen the commission, but some of the steps taken during its rule have come out to be obstacles to the functioning of the commission independently.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, however, claimed while announcing the election manifesto for the January 5 general election on Saturday that the government had strengthened the Election Commission over the last five years.
‘There has not been any change. In fact, events of last few years suggest that the government has been able to increase its influence over the EC,’ jurist Shahdeen Malik, who is also a penal lawyer of the EC, told New Age on Saturday.
Adviser to a past caretaker government Akbar Ali Khan said the Election
Commission had not been strengthened. Many things are related with the strengthening of the EC. The issue of an election-time government is very crucial here,’ he added.
Retired professor of public administration at Chittagong University Tofail Ahmed said the EC had not carried out the reform initiatives of the past commission. ‘It has rather backed away from the reforms and it has appeared to be weak and subservient to the government.’
The Citizens for Good Governance secretary Badiul Alam Majumder said steps taken by the AL government had rather weakened the Election Commission. ‘It has cancelled the provisions for ‘no-vote’ and a candidate’s being a member of a registered party for at least three years to take part in the polls.’
‘Besides, there is a strong allegation that weak and partisan individuals have been appointed as the election commissioners,’ Badiul Alam noted. He alleged that the election commissioners themselves had emerged to be the biggest ‘hurdles’ to the functioning of the EC independently.
The ninth parliament also amended the Representation of the People Order 1972 paving the way for political turncoats to contest the general elections and increasing the limit for election expenditure by candidates and the limit for raising funds from individual or companies by political parties.
Besides, the law ministry turned down many of the reform proposals which were drafted by the previous panel of the election commissioners and were forwarded to the ministry by the present panel of election commissioners.
One of the significant proposals was that the EC would have to hold re-election to the constituencies where there would be a single candidate after withdrawal of nominations but the law ministry sent the EC’s proposal back asking it to retain the old provisions.
Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain said they had proposed formulation of a law for appointment of the election commissioners to avoid controversies. ‘But the AL government has not accepted our proposal,’ he added.
Former election commissioners, experts and even some of the politicians are of the view that the 15th amendment, brought by the current parliament, has in fact undermined the commission in conducting the general elections with the provision of having the incumbent government in the state power during the polls.
‘The AL government has taken no visible steps to strengthen the EC. Rather it has made the EC inept and subservient to the government which has been exposed through many of its recent activities,’ said Dhaka University law professor Asif Nazrul.
He said the AL’s claim to have strengthened the EC was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘devoid of essence.’
Referring to the prime minister’s claim that the AL had strengthened the EC, Supreme Court lawyer Tuhin Malik said, ‘This claim can in no way be true.’
He said the present Election Commission had worked the way the government wanted it to. ‘The EC hid the ruling party candidates’ wealth statements from the website after a delegation of Awami League asked it to do so,’ he said. 

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