12:00 AM, December 20, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:22 AM, December 20, 2018

Rift in EC deepens

CEC, Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar at odds over level playing field

The rift between the chief election commissioner and an election commissioner has deepened further over the issue of level playing field.

A day after CEC KM Nurul Huda's comment that his colleague Mahbub Talukdar did not speak the truth about level playing field, Mahbub yesterday hit back, and said the CEC "struck at the core of the existence” of an election commissioner by making such remarks.

"It must be kept in mind that the chief election commissioner and all other election commissioners are equal," Mahbub told a press briefing at the Nirbachon Bhaban in the capital.

"Earlier, the chief election commissioner made some negative comments about me in public. I never protested his comments. But I can't help protesting after his remark that I have lied by saying there is no level playing field," he said in a written statement.

"I strongly protest the [CEC's] statement," he said. "On December 17, I told reporters that they will get an answer as to whether there is a level playing field for the polls if they ask the question to their conscience.

"I'm still telling everyone concerned that you consider the situation yourselves and ask yourselves whether a level playing field exists or not."

Mahbub, however, did not take any question from reporters.

Earlier on Monday, he told journalists that level playing field was still absent and the words “level playing field” had become meaningless.

The next day, the CEC told reporters in Rangamati, "He [Mahbub] did not speak the truth. The overall election atmosphere is good."

The face-off between the two comes amid civil society's concerns about the absence of level playing field and continued attacks on the opposition camps in different parts of the country.

The BNP and other opposition parties have long alleged that a congenial polls environment is totally absent, although the ruling Awami League insists that is not the case and that the election field is very much level.

On the ground, however, at least 13 BNP and Jatiya Oikyafront candidates and 900 of their supporters have been injured in attacks allegedly by ruling party men since December 10, the day the campaign began.

AL men allegedly attacked campaigns and motorcades of at least 28 BNP and Oikyafront candidates. Police detained around 255 BNP men during the time, according to media reports.

Following days of violence, the authorities deployed 1,016 platoons of Border Guard members across the country on Tuesday (one platoon has 20-30 members).

The BNP also alleges that its leaders and activists are being harassed and arrested throughout the country even during the campaign.

At least 15 opposition candidates, arrested before and after the campaign began, remain behind bars although election is just 10 days away, according to BNP sources. 

On Tuesday, eminent citizens alleged that the EC was not performing its duty in line with the constitution, and that it created scope for tainting the election.

At a seminar organised by the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS), they pointed at the EC's inadequate steps to deal with pre-election violence and said this could lead to a questionable election and post-election crisis.

The latest discord in the EC has raised concerns among experts, who stressed resolving the differences immediately.

"I am worried about the division between the chief election commissioner and an election commissioner,” former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told The Daily Star yesterday.

There might be differences of opinion between them, but that has to be resolved in the commission meeting, he said.

Instead of doing so, they are speaking against each other publicly which is not a good sign, he noted. 

"As a result, people will get confused and the electoral activities may be hampered. This division should be resolved as soon as possible," he said.

Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain said the election was taking place in such a situation that it was difficult to create a level playing field for all political parties.

"But it is the responsibility of the Election Commission to reduce the gap. However, it is not that much visible that the commission has taken any steps to create level playing field," he said.

But AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader defended the CEC yesterday, saying Mahbub Talukdar's remark on level playing field was not right.

"The Election Commission is formed with five members. The commission makes decisions on the basis of majority's opinion. So the chief election commissioner has said the right thing,” he told a programme at Kabirhat in his Noakhali constituency.


In another development, the CEC yesterday instructed polls officials to announce accurate results.

"We are overwhelmed by the interest people have shown about the elections. So we have to be cautious …. Announce results correctly and convey it to the authorised person. A minor flaw in results may lead to a major anarchy. So you have to be very cautious,” he told EC officials involved in the result management system.

He also called on election officials not to let down the people since they put trust in the commission.

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