Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukder walked out of a meeting of the Election Commission, for the second time, by placing a “note of dissent”.
He said, he was not allowed to place forward his proposals to the meeting – what he said was on how to hold the 11th parliamentary polls in a free, fair, and inclusive manner.
The Daily Star has obtained a copy of his recommendations (written in Bangla). Below is the translated version of his proposals:
Some proposals for making 11th national election free, fair, impartial, participatory and acceptable
(For presenting in the EC meeting)
Since July 31 to October 24, 2017, for about three months the Election Commission (EC) undertook dialogues with the stakeholders. Apart from the 40 registered political parties, civil society, electronic and print media, observers, women leaders, former chief election commissioners (CECs), election commissioners and other election related high officials, among others, participated in the dialogue. But the dialogue was unilateral. The Election Commission just listened to the views of the participants and did not give its own opinion. In the dialogues, almost everyone expressed their views and made a good number of recommendations. The participants’ statements were compiled and published as a book. But the commission in its meetings never discussed about the dialogues and neither did it take initiatives to implement the acceptable recommendations.
As these dialogues bore no fruit, I personally decided to review it personally. This memorandum can be considered as a reflection of my efforts. But, it should be aforementioned that these are my opinions, and not of the commission. I have tried to present neutrally the statements and recommendations of the stakeholders, what they placed in the dialogue. I may oppose the commission’s stand on some grounds; and the commissioners are justified to have differing views against my opinion. We can pave a path towards a fruitful 11th Jatiya Sangsad elections through accommodating the opinions of all. For the sake of democracy and staying the course of democratic journey, the national election must be free, fair, neutral, participatory and acceptable.
Various issues discussed in the dialogues have been presented below on the basis of priority:
Army deployment in the JS elections:
Apart from recommendations of the civil society, print media, observer groups and election experts, 26 registered political parties demanded army deployment during the election. Three political parties directly stood against the deployment. Earlier the CEC himself expressed views for army deployment. But how the army will be deployed in the JS election is of special importance. Army have been deployed in all elections after independence. An evaluation has to be drawn on the effectiveness of the deployment during those elections; essentially their use as a strike force. As the army has been excluded from the definition of law enforcing agencies, now, a determination of how the army will function and their jurisdiction needs to be predefined.
Though the participation of all political parties in the Jatiya Sangsad election was not discussed with special emphasis, it is the most important issue under current circumstance. As the 2014 election was not participatory, it was seen that parliament members in 153 seats were elected unopposed. One of the parties announced to boycott the election only to contest later. The party announced itself as an opposition party and took part in formation of the government by taking the posts of ministers. It remains an imposing question on whether a party can continue its responsibilities towards the parliament by holding the positions of the government and the opposition at the same time.
If the election is participatory, competition among the political parties will increase. In a holistic overview, this may pave a way to end irregularities in elections. If an all-party participation is not ensured, the election will not support the development of democracy. To make the upcoming election participatory, the EC may take suitable initiatives. The nation expects a free, fair, neutral election. To make this happen, the Election Commission may sit in talks directly with the registered political parties, if necessary. Even if such an initiative fails to establish understanding among the political parties, it will help create an election environment.
Though the Constitution of Bangladesh does not say anything specifically in this regard, the spirit of the constitution is a free, fair and neutral election for democracy. If the EC sits with political parties on bilateral basis, many difficult problems may be solved.
Neutrality in Election:
There is a popular phrase called “level playing field” in the election. I think the phrase is misleading. There is no specific yardstick for a “level playing field”. There is just a mere perception. If the parliament remains functional, can you create a level playing field merely by announcing that the lawmakers will stay inactive? How far can the Election Commission achieve if tries to create neutrality by exercising the law in such a situation? Even after bringing public administration and police administration under the power of the Election Commission, the reality is completely different. Question remains on the number of actions taken in the past by police and public administration for violation neutrality? Achieving neutrality in the election is not only an act of the EC, it depends on the actions of the government. If the government is determined to hold a free, fair and neutral election; then only the EC can create the basis for a “level playing field”.
In a democratic system, the prerequisite of holding any election is to ensure equal opportunity for all participants. While conducting any political programmes, the opposition parties cannot avail the constitutional rights as much as the ruling party. They are being barred even in the case of peaceful political activities. The allegation of lawsuits against the opposition party people by their names in the committee or filing ghost cases questions the idea of “level playing field”. The Election Commission can bring it to the attention of the government through a statement for the sake of equal treatment to all parties, although the commission has little to do before announcing the election schedule.
Increasing capacity of EC:
During the dialogue, the registered political parties and many stakeholders recommended to increase the capacity of the EC. By law, the EC has enough power. But the issue of having power is one thing, while the capacity of exercising power is another. In the current political reality, the EC in many cases cannot exercise power according to its will. The main reason is EC’s lack of control over the law enforcers; although the commission is given enough power on paper. This was evident in the last city election. In the political reality, others who were involved with the election, expressed unwillingness to obey the directions of the EC.
In the dialogue, many of the stakeholders recommended to include Public Administration Ministry and Home Ministry under the EC’s jurisdiction completely during the election period. Some others even recommended to include Finance Ministry, Information Ministry and Local Government Ministry along with it. No doubt, the matter is controversial; but in my opinion, this can be considered. If the responsibilities of the Public Administration Ministry and Home Ministry come under the EC, it would increase confidence among the people on the national election and help to conduct a free, fair, neutral and acceptable election.
Dialogue with the government:
The biggest stakeholder of parliamentary election is the government. The government and the EC share the same goal – to conduct a free and fair election. Democracy is one of the four pillars of the constitution forged in our independent country after the glorious Liberation War. Fair election is a prerequisite to democracy. If the election is questioned, the role of the government is also questioned. During the dialogue, it was seen that some recommendations were dependent on political decisions. Of them, there were some important proposals and recommendations which were under the jurisdiction of the government or politics. Those recommendations were separately mentioned in the “Election Dialogue 2017”. If those proposals and recommendations are deemed implementable, the EC should consult with the government before announcement of election schedule. The government and the EC should work together to build confidence among people about the National Election.
In the end what needs to be said is that the EC must achieve the confidence of the people about the election. It is possible to bring confidence in people if the EC can ensure that every voter will cast his or her vote at the polling centre by their will and go back home safely. The strict implementation of electoral rules and laws and adopting stern measures in case of violation electoral code of conducts can also help to gain confidence. All political parties should assist EC to this end. The EC is oath-bound to establish and uphold the democracy; and all the stakeholders are a part of it.