EC shows its helplessness
If the complaints filed by the returning officer in the recent polls to Phulpur municipality are proven to be true then the acts by ruling Awami League MP Sharif Ahmed of Mymensing-2 would be considered unlawful and punishable as per the electoral laws.
The returning officer accused Sharif of intimidating him and also of violating the electoral code of conduct to influence the Phulpur municipality election held on December 30. Polls were also held that day to 233 municipalities countrywide.
The MP has also been accused of using his men to try to take over different polling stations and of forcing presiding officers to allow his men to stuff ballot boxes in favour of the AL nominated mayoral candidate in the polls.
Subrata Paul, also executive officer of the Phulpur upazila of Mymensing, filed the complaint to the district deputy commissioner the next day of the polls.
The DC forwarded his complaint to the cabinet division on January 6.
In his complaint, Paul, whose service was placed under the Election Commission during the polls, also alleged that he was threatened by the lawmaker for “not working in favour of the lawmaker-supported mayor candidate.”
Somebody threw bombs inside Paul's home and in front of his office in the evening on December 30 after voting was over.
A day after the election, Sharif called Paul and threatened him, the official said. "He [MP] even threatened me that he will find me out wherever I go in the country."
"In such a situation, my family members and I feel insecure," Paul said in the letter and requested the DC of Mymensingh to take necessary steps.
The cabinet division on January 7 sent the complaint to the Election Commission, the office of the prime minister, and public administration affairs ministry for taking necessary actions in light of the complaint.
These serious allegations of the alleged activities by Sharif are clearly unlawful according to sections 70 and 73 of the municipality election conduct rules.
No persons can try to have assistance from any public servant to help the election of his candidate, take away ballot papers and resort to force, intimidation or obstruction to influence the election, according to the sections.
If a person is found guilty of the offences, he or she can be punished with a jail term of a maximum of seven years and a minimum of six years.
If we go through the returning officer's complaint, AL MP Sharif and his followers should be accused of committing electoral offences by their alleged activities and the EC should have taken legal actions accordingly.
But the EC-led by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad has not taken any legal steps against the MP in more than two weeks. Instead it made a puzzling move Sunday by drawing the attention of the prime minister and the Speaker to the unlawful activities of the MP.
His actions stand in stark contrast to what the immediate past EC-led by ATM Shamsul Huda did in 2009.
On instruction of the then EC, the district election officer of Sirajganj had filed a case against six people including the then fisheries and livestock minister Abdul Latif Biswas and his daughter Shoma Biswas for violating the Upazila election laws in Belkuchi.
The present EC on Sunday chose to complain to the prime minister and the Speaker against the AL MP Sharif.
In its letters sent to the principal secretary of the Prime Minister's Office and secretary of the Parliament Secretariat, the EC said the activities of Sharif were regretful and harmful to the image of the government and the EC.
The letter reads: "The commission thinks that the issue should be brought to your attention [the PM and the Speaker]."
Neither the prime minister nor the speaker has anything to do in this case. Neither the constitution nor the rules of procedure of the Jatiya Sangsad, nor any other law give the prime minister or the Speaker any power to take any action against any person accused of criminal offences.
Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury on Sunday told journalists that she has nothing to do as the incident took place outside of the parliament.
It is only the judiciary empowered by the constitution and existing laws can hold trial of criminal offences.
By shying away from the wrongdoers in Phulpur municipality polls, the EC has shown it cannot protect its official, the returning officer.
The underlying messages of this incident are enormously significant. This single incident depicts the inability of the EC to function independently and also the helplessness of the field level government administration to take actions against wrongdoers if they belong to the ruling AL.