Bangladesh is quickly approaching the next general election which is scheduled to hold in between November, 2023 to January, 2024. The Election Commission (EC) is one of the most vital entities of a democracy to ensure free, fair and credible election.
The election commission endures tremendous pressure from government, opposition and even from the people as holding a free and fair election is not easy in Bangladesh due to the enmity among political parties. The newly formed EC is now holding talks with different political parties. But the role of EC needs to be more specific and action-oriented.
After liberation in 1971, 13 Chief Election Commissioners took office and 11 national elections under 11 of them had been held in this country – and in most cases, the Chief Elections Commissioners (CEC) along with Election Commissioners were accused of not performing their roles in an unbiased manner. They failed to do their job efficiently despite having sweeping powers granted by the Constitution for conducting a credible election. Only if the EC can operate independently, the elections will be acceptable to the political parties and the people.
Article 126 of the Constitution and Articles 4 and 5 of the Representation of the People Order, 1972 provide that all executive authorities to assist the Election Commission in the discharge of its functions assuming that as their duties. The Commission has the power to require any person or authority to perform such functions or render such assistance for the purpose of election as it may direct.
The role of Election Commission is simultaneously highly diverse as well as focused as its only priority is to hold free, fair and credible elections. It has extensive powers to manage, oversee, and regulate the electoral process.
The Election Commission has to register the political parties. A law regarding this registration process was enacted in 2008 and around 44 parties have got registered with the Election Commission till now enabling them to practice democracy inside and outside the party.
The commission can also investigate the finances and donors list of all registered political parties. Right now, there are 39 registered political parties in Bangladesh and many are waiting for registration.
The EC performs an important role by prohibiting the publication of results of opinion polls or exit polls preventing influence on the voting trends. They also have the quasi-legal powers as a law enforcement agency to investigate and indict someone for compromising election laws through bribery, corruption, vote buying or blackmail.
Modern election commission’s role is no more election administration but electoral governance including reform of rules, rule for implementation and adjudication including adjudication of complaints and validation of results. Another major responsibility of the EC is to look into the background of the party nominated candidates in an election and finding out their eligibility to participate in election fulfilling all legal requirements.
Considering the upcoming national election which might be conducted through EVM system and also under the current government, the EC should take some strong steps.The citizens need to trust both the electoral system as well as the process. They need to be assured of the election environment also. Vote is the most important right of any citizen and the EC must act efficiently to protect that right.
As a basic role, the EC must ensure proper registration of the new political parties so that, they can rightfully participate in the next general election.
To register, a party has to deposit Tk. 5,000 as a fee and is required to meet at least one condition out of the three with supporting documentation: a new party needs to have an active central office, a central committee, offices in at least one-third of the administrative districts, and a memorandum of endorsement from a minimum of 200 voters as its members in each upazila or metropolitan area or having at least one member of the party who had won in a previous general election took place after the independence of Bangladesh or securing at least five per cent of total votes cast in the constituencies in which its candidates took part in any of the post-independence general elections.
As for most of the registration-seeking parties, it is almost impossible to attain the last two conditions, fulfilling the first condition is almost mandatory.
Additionally, it is more important to assess the ideological standing, programs and constitutions of the registration seeking parties. Only parties that uphold Bangladesh’s constitution and sovereignty should have the right to registration and to take part in the election.
The election commission has begun registering new political parties interested in taking part in the next general elections. According to a recent notice issued, new parties have until August 29 to register with the electoral panel. Several political parties are awaiting registration at the moment.
The commission officials said it would take them several more months to review and verify the supporting documents of a new party.The officials are hoping to finalize the registration process by December this year.
The EC has also the responsibility of checking on the activities of the registered political parties. There are many political parties who are not holding their annual conference and democratic practice is completely absent in those parties.
Most of the parties are choosing their leadership by selection rather than election or polls. Hence, the activists of the parties are getting deprived of their rights and it is true for many large parties.
Moreover, if the registered political parties are maintaining their ideology or even documentation is under question. We hope the EC will check on the irregularities among the registered political parties and will take actions. If a registered political party is not upholding democratic ideology or is violating any rules, the registration should be cancelled.
It is the duty of the EC to facilitate an acceptable, free and fair election. The Election Commission started talks with the registered political parties to decide its course of action for the next parliamentary elections from July 17. The commission would continue the dialogue with the parties till July 31. Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, however, already said that it would not join the talks.
The election commission and new CEC KaziHabibulAwal seemed to be under pressure from the beginning. While talking to Bobby Hajjaj, whose father is aninternationally renowned arms dealer, and his party, the CEC even, told if someone stands with sword in the election, it should be resisted with rifle.
The CEC later apologized for this remark as he mentioned it to be a casual one. His words and standings were even criticized by both the ruling party and opposition leaders on different occasions.
The election commission and the CEC cannot ensure participation of every political party in the next general election. They cannot even change the constitution to adopt new electoral system. Satisfying everyone will be impossible. Rather the election commission can ensure a free and fair electoral environment and the election commission should focus on that. They also must plan ahead to maintain law and order during the election days with the support of the law enforcement agencies.
If they can do so, the people’s participation will be ensured, which is very important for the next general election of Bangladesh. If the election commission gets involved with too many issues other than their specific roles, then there will be chances of controversies.
Since the independence, different election commissions had been criticized for bias and disruptive actions. Their actions seldom impacted the democratic trait of the country. The new election commission should act in such a way so that these allegations do not surround them. They should actually play by the book. Bangladesh has been politically stable during the last decade and we hope the situation remains the same before, during and after the next general election.
We believe if the EC performs on their roles, that hope will be definitely served.
Writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron,BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela