The High Court today directed the Election Commission to allocate BNP’s election symbol “Sheaf of Paddy” to its four candidates in place of other four rival contenders who were earlier allocated the same symbol.
Kamrun Nahar Shirin will get “Sheaf of Paddy” in place of Monjurul Islam Bimal for Natore-1, Abdul Hamid Dabliu will get “Sheaf of Paddy” in place of SA Kabir Jinnah for Manikganj-1, Mostafizur Rahman will get “Sheaf of Paddy” instead of Khalek Chowdhury for Naogaon-1 and Masuda Momin will get “Sheaf of Paddy” in place of Abdul Muhith Talukder, Deputy Attorney General Motaher Hossain Sazu told The Daily Star.
He said Monjurul, Jinnah, Khalek and Muhith cannot contest the December 30 election following the HC orders, he said, adding that they can, however, move appeals before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against the HC orders.
The HC stayed for three months the EC’s decisions to allocate “Sheaf of Paddy” to Monjurul, Jinnah, Khalek and Muhith and issued separate rules asking the EC and government to explain in four weeks why the EC’s decisions should not be declared illegal.
The bench of Justice JBM Hassan and Justice Md Khairul Alam came up with the orders and rules following separate writ petitions filed by Kamrun Nahar, Abdul Hamid, Mostafizur and Masuda challenging the EC’s decisions.
The writ petitioners said in their petitions that BNP nominated them first for contesting the December 30 general election.
But the EC allocated “Sheaf of Paddy” to their rival candidates in violation of the Representation of People’s Order (RPO), they said in the petitions.
BNP will form a judicial commission to reform the judiciary, the party promised in the election manifesto unveiled today.
It will place the control of the lower judiciary on the Supreme Court instead of the president through amendment of the constitution.
It will put in place a institutional system to appoint efficient judges to remove the current case backlog, the party said in its manifesto.
The Daily Star has launched a new series of talk show ‘The Election Talks 2018’ where experts are analysing all aspects of the upcoming general elections, contemporary politics, events and incidents.
In today’s episode of ‘The Election Talks 2018’, Sharmeen Murshid, chief executive officer of a non-government organisation and local election observer group ‘Brotee’, talks with The Daily Star about the upcoming election.
She sheds light on the inclusion process of election observers for the 11th national polls on a one-to-one with Shakhawat Liton, planning editor of The Daily Star.
While listing the election observers this time, the election commission has excluded many experienced observes while many election observer groups were included who are not known to us, she said.
Mentioning that the scope of observing the election is getting reduced, she said, "This shrunken scope has raised questions in our minds."
As an example, she said that during the 2008 elections, number of total international election observers were 593 and local observers were 1,00,059 from 75 organisations. But this time there are only 25 to 26 thousand local observers and under 100 international observers, according to election commission data.
Watch the video to know more!
That the BNP chief Khaleda Zia would not be directly involved in her party's activities or politics has been a moot point since February 2018, when she was jailed on corruption charges. BNP's failed movement to release Khaleda from jail seemed to further ensure that her days in politics had indeed come to an end – although the matter has made headlines recently, thanks to the contradictory comments made by the ruling Awami League leaders. With the next parliamentary election less than a year away, the matter has understandably gained much attention.
Khaleda Zia's legal rights notwithstanding, the BNP, which is effectively the main opposition camp in Bangladesh, smells a rat in all this. Party insiders suggest that the ruling party is intentionally reviving the issue as a topic of debate. The ruling party leaders, on their part, counter that they have no intention of bringing the issue to the fore, but have just explained what is written in the executive order on the basis of which the 77-year-old BNP chief walked out from jail on health grounds.
The debate on whether Khaleda could come back to politics began when senior Awami League lawmaker Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim said on January 26 that she had been released from prison "with an undertaking" not to get involved in politics. It took a new turn when Law Minister Anisul Huq and Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said she could indeed make a comeback to the country's political scene, but not contest elections, only to be countered by Information Minister Hasan Mahmud and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader.
Amid this debate, the BNP has decided to be extra cautious. With the election round the corner, any mistake could cost them dearly as the party has been out of power for three consecutive terms. In the last two elections, they took different approaches that brought them the same outcome: nothing.
There are at least four possible scenarios for which the BNP suspects the Awami League has intentionally revived the Khaleda Zia issue.
First, the BNP has been rather successful in their street campaign to push its 10-point charter of demands, including a general election under a non-partisan interim administration. Many were sceptical about the party's organisational strength to wage any such campaign. Many even mocked the party for thinking of a campaign on the streets. But the BNP proved everyone wrong and has been running a successful campaign with wide public support, challenging the ruling party with huge rallies. The recent discussion about Khaleda, according to BNP insiders, is to throw the party off its game; the street campaign will be defused as leaders would get busy talking about the party chief.
Second, there is a "pressure" on the government to hold an inclusive and credible election. Without the participation of the opposition BNP, the next election would not be an inclusive one. So, the issue of Khaleda's engagement in active politics could be a ploy to get the BNP to come to the table for talks.
Third, the party fears that if Khaleda Zia becomes active in politics, the government may suspend the executive order that allowed the former premier to get out of jail. The government might claim that since Khaleda is active in politics, she must be in good health, and hence must go back to jail.
Fourth, since Khaleda has been in jail, her elder son and the party's Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman has been at the helm of the party. The current campaign has also been taking place under his leadership. Those who don't like Tarique's leadership within the BNP, however, have no option but to go along.
The party, so long as it is under Tarique's leadership, is adamant about not joining the polls under the Sheikh Hasina government. So, if that section of leaders brought Khaleda back to politics, it would create enough of a buzz for the old guards to rally around the former prime minister. That would challenge Tarique's leadership within the party and, at the same time, it would be possible to send Khaleda back to jail, and split the party and bring a section of the party to the election to make it inclusive.
Whatever the case may be, the BNP leadership has decided to remain quiet for now. What is almost certain, however, is that in politics, one does not get a second chance to seize the initiative. And the BNP appears to have lost its chance. The party leaders could well have tested the waters with a countermove soon after the law and agriculture ministers' comments. What if they had mentioned that Khaleda would speak to the press shortly? Or that she would address a public meeting remotely from her home? What would have happened? At best, she would have had half an hour that would be the most covered and most watched news event in quite some time. At worst, she would be sent to jail and the BNP would have another reason to take to the streets with a stronger resolve for the 10-point demand. What is certain is that it would have tested the ruling Awami League's sincerity or resolve.
The BNP's current risk-averse behaviour is not conducive to running a successful campaign. Electoral politics needs quite a lot more pluck.
Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is chief reporter at The Daily Star.
The phenomenon of high-ranking bureaucrats joining political parties after retirement is a matter of concern for many citizens. This is because it raises questions about their true loyalty and the integrity of the bureaucracy. When individuals are appointed to serve in government positions, they take an oath to serve the people and uphold the law. However, if they join a political party immediately after retirement, it sends a message that their loyalty may have been divided all along, and that, while serving in the bureaucracy, they may have worked in favour of a certain section of people in power or from within the power structure. And not only that, their subordinates may have also done the same.
To better understand the phenomenon, let us look at the Gaibandha-5 by-election.
The events surrounding the Gaibandha-5 by-election have raised concerns about the integrity of the country's institutions – particularly the Election Commission (EC). The Chief Election Commissioner expressed his frustration with the widespread irregularities that occurred during the by-election, stating that "elections [were] now out of control." The EC suspended the election and announced that it would take legal action against 134 public officials, including a returning officer, one additional deputy commissioner, one executive magistrate, 126 presiding officers, and five sub-inspectors for their involvement in the irregularities.
The reason behind taking such an action is simple: these officials did not act as they were supposed to under oath.
During an election, the civil administration, including the bureaucracy and police, are mandated by law to serve under the direct control of the EC. The EC relies on their integrity to successfully hold a free and fair election. However, during the Gaibandha-5 by-election, the opposite occurred. Officials acted as if they were not under oath and did not provide their allegiance to the Commission, resulting in widespread irregularities.
The fact that public officials acted against their oath raises concerns about who they were serving; the people they were supposed to serve under oath, or the party they are associated with? The aftermath of the by-election sends a negative message to the people, creating doubts about the integrity of these officials and the institutions they serve.
The erosion of institutional integrity is a significant issue. It is leading to a loss of faith in the democratic process of the country. When we lose confidence in the integrity of institutions, we become disillusioned with the democratic process
It is not surprising that the EC has not yet taken visible actions against the public officials. The EC is reliant on the civil administration's cooperation, and without it, the Commission cannot act. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Bangladesh, and it is not uncommon for public officials to act against their oath, especially when there is political pressure.
The erosion of institutional integrity is a significant issue. It is leading to a loss of faith in the democratic process of the country. When we lose confidence in the integrity of institutions, we become disillusioned with the democratic process. The second round of the Gaibandha-5 constituency election, held on January 3 with only 35 percent voter turnout, and the EC's shift from "out of control" to "fair, disciplined and peaceful manner", proved that people's participation no longer matters. The ruling party candidate won the by-election.
There was a time when nothing could stop people from exercising their voting rights. Blaming the cold for the lower turnout is perhaps nothing but covering up the weaknesses of the constitutional institutions.
All citizens have a responsibility to vote. Even if the outcome seems predetermined, it is essential to exercise the right to vote and make one's voice heard. It is only by participating in the democratic process that citizens can ensure that their elected officials are held accountable and that institutions remain independent and free from political pressure.
The EC is a constitutional body in Bangladesh. Our constitution has awarded the EC with absolute power to control and direct the civil administration during elections. But this is rendered meaningless if the civil administration does not cooperate with the EC, but ends up doing the opposite.
The events surrounding a few recent parliamentary by-elections and local government elections serve as a warning about the erosion of our institutional integrity. What happened after the local government elections was even worse – several elected representatives, including a freedom fighter, were sacked from their positions on questionable grounds.
Their termination was imminent as they had gone against the candidates nominated by their party, won the election, and faced non-cooperation from the civil administration at the local level. Compared to others, the freedom fighter was fortunate enough to get his position back – thanks to a court ruling declaring his termination illegal.
So, can the EC hold a free and fair national election? Under the prevailing conditions, it is nearly impossible. Why? With only nine months left before the national election, the law ministry is still sitting on the EC's proposal to amend the Representation of the People Order, 1972, the regulating law of the national election. It is mentioned under Article 126 of the constitution that it shall be the duty of all executive authorities to assist the EC in the discharging of its functions.
Can the EC do anything if the executive authorities feel that these are just words written on a piece of paper? It cannot.
These precedents will continue to have serious implications for the integrity of the bureaucracy and the legitimacy of the government's actions. Bureaucracy, civil administration, and law enforcement agencies need to remain impartial and serve the public interest, rather than aligning themselves with political parties.
Much of Bangladesh's recent economic slump is due to public funds being used to benefit mid- and high-ranking executive officials, further exacerbating inequality. But it has worked well in terms of winning their loyalty and confidence for the ruling party, with overall negative consequences for the people and the economy.
Meer Ahsan Habib is a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Arizona State University. His Twitter handle is @meeriyadh
Today’s episode of ‘The Election Talks 2018’ brings former student politician and journalist Subhash Singha Roy, and political analyst Dr Sakhawat Hossain.
Subhash, a former leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League and a journalist, spoke about the fairness of the election and expressed his views over the allegations against ruling party.
Dr Sakhawat, on the other hand, spoke about the harassment, arrests and cases against opposition political activists to reflect on the situation on the field now.