Reeling under labyrinth

Mahfuzur Rahman
Thursday, March 31st, 2016


A pro-Awami League man in Noakhali district had long been wondering how to serve the people of his neighbourhood. Toying with various ideas, he has finally decided to contest the Union Parishad election for the chairman post only to feel the pinch of hot political water. It is a well-known fact that election in Bangladesh is nothing but machinations and distribution of buckets of money. So, this naïve local politician has ultimately landed in jail in a case cooked up by his nearest rival as he virtually received no support from the local Election Commission officials. This is just one example of the ‘funny’ election system in Bangladesh.


Bangladesh has got an Election Commission headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, sworn in on February 9, 2012.As the opposition political parties had long been accusing the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of playing a ‘puppet’s role’, Rakibuddin on March 3 said the police would check any possible irregularity during the countrywide staggered UP elections. “The police will check all kinds of irregularities till having their last bullet,” he said stirring a debate whether the Election Commission chief himself was fearing any violence.


The CEC was talking to reporters after a meeting with top law enforcement officials at the National Economic Council auditorium over the first phase of the UC polls held on March 22 amid widespread violence that left over 10 people dead. As journalists wanted to know whether there is any pressure from the government over UC polls, Rakibuddin trashed the claims saying, “We see no pressure. No one of the government makes phone call and tell us nothing.”


Replying to a question whether the CEC thinks it is a normal situation when many candidates are being elected unopposed, he said if there is no problem in the submission process of nomination papers, there would be no question about whether the number of candidates is one or 10.


As the country’s UP election is in progress, the Election Commission in Bangladesh is facing serious criticisms as it ‘cannot’ respond to calls for actions. Civil society leaders have slammed the Election Commission when it refused to shoulder the blame for UP polls violence. Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz on March 27 said there is no apparent reason for the Election Commission to shoulder responsibility of fight between local groups in the UP. “If any two groups from two neighbouring homes, or two houses or two localities engage in fighting, I don’t see there is any direct reason for the Election Commission to shoulder the responsibility for it,” he told reporters replying to a question at his Election Commission Secretariat office.


The local body election is being held among the locals. There is question of prestige among them and their parties and their groups, he added. “It is not that someone has been killed for the first time. In our neighbouring country, there is instance of huge number of people being killed even in a single polling station of Panchayat election. In our country, there is also example that larger number of people was killed in the elections in the past,” Shah Nawaz said.


The Commissioner rightly referred to the neighbouring country India. We may have a look at the Indian Election Commission, too. The Indian Election Commission does not only have all the powers that it needs to organise elections, but it also uses that powers in their perfect terms. Courts there cannot intervene in its functioning in any way as the Indian constitution guarantees this giving it the much needed agility. That is why it is said to be the most powerful Election Commission in the World.


The surprising fact is that no Election Commission in Bangladesh could earn the trust of people though this constitutional body enjoys unlimited power when an election schedule is announced. Our constitution says that it shall be the duty of all executive authorities to assist the Election Commission in the discharge of its functions. But our Election Commission is always unwilling to exercise its power as given by the constitution. And this is how it always remains mistrusted and deeply embroiled in controversies.


A day after the Election Commission’s shirking of the responsibility for the violence, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) came down heavily on the Commission for its failure to deal with the violence that occurred during first phase of UP polls. “I would like to call this election as a perverted one. Justice Badrul Haider Chowdhury in a Supreme Court verdict had said a voter-less and perverted election destroys democracy. We think we’re pushing our democratic system towards destruction,” said Shujan secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar.


He said the EC must take the responsibility for the election irregularities and violence to prevent recurrence of the incidents. “If the CEC and his deputies don’t take the blame… we must appoint such people to those posts who will shoulder the responsibility and be able to ensure fair polls,” Badiul Alam observed.


In a written speech, Shujan central coordinator Dilip Kumar Sarker said the elections to 712 UPs in the first phase were held amid huge violence. He said there were violence and election irregularities in 32 districts among 36 where the polls were held. Dilip said the role of the EC was questionable from the very beginning of the election process. “The EC was never seen taking any steps with courage and impartiality based on the law.”


As in India our CEC is also oath-bound to hold fair election as he in his oath says: “I….. do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office according to law: That I will bear true faith and allegiance to Bangladesh: That I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution:  And that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions.”


Let us get back to the Indian Election Commission. According to its former officials, the Indian Election Commission does not need to deploy army to perform any election duty. Instead, they are kept at bay. They list police, paramilitary and other armed forces members for assistance and they are fully under the commission’s command once they are assigned.


Unlike ours, the Indian Election Commission also takes the full control over bureaucracy once an election schedule is announced, and severs connections with governments. And more importantly, it cleans up the entire state machinery of political bias through transfers and postings. It also orders reelection if there are reports of irregularities from its own observers or authentic complaints come from candidates.


In any immature democracy, holding a fair election is a very challenging job as muscle power always takes the lead there. In such a situation, any election commission has to vow first that it will exercise its constitutional power and purge the political elements to create a level-playing field for all and thus hold a credible election. The motto must be there in its mind to hold good election first, then the better one and the best one in its tenure because it is your constitutional obligation. You must work with an attitude of leaving behind a good story for historians to write about you.


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