Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad is tired of his job. He has sought leave from work several times. None, but HT Imam, the political adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on March 15 has disclosed this interesting information. Imam did not tell us who has granted him the leave, but we presume her to be the prime minister.
Rakibuddin did not need to seek leave from the government. He is holding an extraordinary constitutional office. His office is completely independent. He can visit any foreign country for official or personal purpose without taking leave from anyone. His predecessor ATM Shamsul Huda has never sought permission or leave from the government to visit any foreign country for any official or personal purpose. The EC Secretariat used to issue an official order, which completed all the formalities.
The present CEC however has opted to seek leave the way a government officer does. Since the Pakistan era, he was a public servant for around 36 years. During that long period, he would seek leave from his higher authorities. He might have forgotten that he is now holding a constitutional office. If he willingly surrenders his independence to a partisan government, the constitutional provision can in no way protect the independence of the high office he is holding.
Be that as it may, Rakibuddin was granted the leave. He left Dhaka on March 3 for the US for around one and a half months. He is expected to return home in the middle of April. The crucial question is why did he leave the country at a time when the Election Commission is struggling to hold the upazila elections in a free and fair manner?
The EC held the controversial and voter-less parliamentary election on January 5. The BNP-led alliance's boycott has made the EC's job easier. And thanks to the AL-led government's manipulation, the EC did not even need to hold polls in 153 parliamentary constituencies, more than half of the total seats. In fact, the EC had little role to play in the January 5 polls. So, the January 5 election has certainly not made Rakibuddin tired.
The EC also held elections in five city corporations. It however could not demonstrate strong leadership in holding the polls. Its weakness in enforcing electoral code of conduct was exposed in many cases. But the elections were largely free, fair and peaceful. It was possible due to the government's political goodwill, and the Rakibuddin-led EC can claim no credit for that.
The city corporation elections were highly focused. The polls drew attention of the entire country and many foreign countries took an interest in them as well. Both the government and the ruling AL were very careful and sensitive about them. They did not want to do anything in the polls which could have contributed to justify the BNP-led alliance's demand for a restoration of a non-partisan parliamentary election time government.
It is certain that the city polls also did not make Rakibuddin tired. The situation has changed during the ongoing Upazila Parishad elections. The ruling AL men opted for violent and unlawful means including capturing polling stations and stuffing ballot boxes in the first two phases held on February 19 and 27 when Rakibuddin was leading the EC. It annoyed him. He reportedly sent a message to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and sought her assistance to contain violent ruling party men. But he did not get the desired response. Then, according to a source close to Rakibuddin, he decided to leave the country, allowing Election Commissioner Abdul Mobarak to lead the EC.
Mobarak appeared to be the perfect man for the ruling AL, whose rowdy activists captured polling stations and stuffed ballot boxes in the third phase of the polls held on March 15. But Mobarak, after the polls ended, termed them largely peaceful, and free and fair. He will lead the EC during the remaining two phases of polls on March 23 and 31.
Staying in the US, Rakibuddin must have observed how the third phase polls were held on March 15. As a silent observer, he will be noticing the mode of the remaining two phases of the polls. Nothing can be more unfortunate and disgraceful for a leader who leaves the battlefield in the middle of the war.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.