Polls-time govt should do only routine work | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 12, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:50 AM, January 12, 2017

Polls-time govt should do only routine work

AL proposes during talks with president, speaks for an all-powerful Election Commission

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In a major political development, the Awami League yesterday tabled a proposal for limiting the jurisdiction of the election-time government to carrying out only routine job as had been the legal provisions for the nonpartisan caretaker governments in the past.

As part of its 11-point proposal, the ruling party also recommended empowering the Election Commission with supervising authority over the administration, law enforcement agencies and all other departments engaged in the election process.

An AL delegation led by party chief and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina placed the proposals to President Abdul Hamid during talks, initiated by the president for the formation of  the new EC.

The tenure of the current EC expires this month.  

The AL described the proposals as "very important for holding a free, fair and neutral election".

Party General Secretary Obaidul Quader later briefed journalists at the party's Dhanmondi office about the proposals.

Political analysts were quick to laud the proposals and said it was “a breakthrough” to the prevailing political deadlock.

Former Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussein said the proposals, if implemented, would create a check and balance.

"Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina placed the proposals herself, it indicates that she wants to do it. It is a positive move and it should be done,” he told The Daily Star.

Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik said, “It is a clear sign that the Awami League is willing to move away from the notion of a political government to a more neutral government during elections.”

But BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said it would be difficult to keep the EC neutral without a nonpartisan government.

The big question is whether the AL really wants to implement the proposals properly and without any ill motives, he said. “In the past, the Awami League took absolute

control over the Election Commission.”

11 THINGS AL CONSIDERS KEY 

TO FREE AND FAIR POLLS
An independent and effective 

Election Commission
Responsibilities of respective ministries/

agencies under the executive branch 

during the election period
Responsible and impartial behaviour of the election commission secretariat 

and its field level officials/employees 
A flawless voter list with photographs 

and overall security at the election 

centres on the voting day
Appointing only the republic's responsible officials and employees to the posts of polling officials from the presiding officials instead of officers and employees from non-government organisations
Impartial and responsible behaviour 

of the members meant for maintaining law and order
Dispassionate activities by everyone from local/foreign observers to the media and civil society members
Stopping use of muscle power and 

money in polls and ensuring that all 

voters, including the minorities, 

can cast their votes freely
Ensuring overall security of the people, including voters, before, after and on the day of the voting
Keeping all the essential organisations needed for holding the elections, including the administration and the law enforcement agencies, under the supervision of the Election Commission
Limiting the election-time government's jurisdiction to the essential routine work only

The nonpartisan caretaker government system, which had been introduced to the constitution in 1996, provided for an interim administration with limited power to oversee national elections.

It could carry out some routine jobs but was constitutionally barred from making any policy decisions. Its main function was to provide the EC with all assistance to hold free and fair polls.

But the system was scrapped in 2011, sparking a political turmoil.

Presently, the constitution allows the party in power to remain in office during the elections and to exercise full authority.

In line with the constitutional amendment, the AL was in power during the January 2014 election, which the BNP-led alliance vehemently opposed, tried to resist and eventually boycotted.

The BNP and its allies still seem unwilling to run in any election under a Hasina-led administration and want some sort of a nonpolitical government. The AL insists the system will not return.

The AL's proposals for empowering the EC and capping the overwhelming power of a political government come against such a backdrop.

And like the BNP and other political parties that held talks with the president over the last three weeks, the AL stayed focused on the formation of the new EC.

In the absence of a nonpartisan caretaker government, the role of the EC is crucial for holding free and fair elections, analysts say.

At the talks, Hasina said that if possible, a suitable law or an ordinance could be promulgated now for appointing the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners.

"If this cannot be done right away due to time constraints, steps need to be taken to make a law for the formation of future election commissions,” President's Press Secretary Joynal Abedin quoted Hasina as saying.

The PM also said the president would appoint the CEC and other ECs in line with the process he thought fit, Joynal told reporters after the talks.

Hasina also said her party had full confidence and trust in the wisdom of the president and that the AL would extend its full support to any right steps the president would take to constitute the EC, according to a Bangabhaban press release.

The AL does not want any controversies over future commissions, she said, adding that whichever party voted to power by the people will run the country, she said.

The ruling party also proposed introducing e-voting in the next general elections due in 2019.

For his part, the president said the role of the EC was very important and hoped that it would be possible to form a strong EC with cooperation from all political parties. 

The president's move to hold talks with political parties came after BNP chief Khaleda Zia's proposal for constituting the new EC through consensus among political parties.

The talks opened on December 18 and so far the president held discussions with 23 political parties.

The president may form a search committee to constitute the new EC as has been done by his predecessor late Zillur Rahman in 2012.

About the AL's proposals, Shahdeen Malik said the role of the administration, law enforcers and other stakeholders during the election should be clarified and their job specified.

Sakhawat said the rules of business of the polls-time government must be clearly outlined. Also, the EC can play a supervisory role and keep an eye on government activities.  

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