AL terms EC's directive illegal
A delegation of legal experts from Awami League (AL) in an unscheduled meeting with the Election Commission (EC) yesterday labelled 'illegal' the commission's barring of political parties' central leaders from taking part in local government election campaigns.
Later in the day in an AL central working committee meeting the party went even further and decided to send four campaign teams led by four of its presidium members to the cities of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet to seek votes for 14-party backed mayoral candidates in the city corporation polls scheduled to be held in those cities on August 4.
The five-member AL delegation to the EC, led by its Presidium Member Suranjit Sengupta, told the commission that they are not obliged to abide by the restrictions since those were imposed 'without any lawful authority'.
Suranjit claimed the electoral rules stipulate that local government polls are non-partisan, but there is no specific provision in the rules that allows the EC to bar political leaders from campaigning for candidates.
At the meeting Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda and Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain however rejected the AL delegation's arguments and said the restrictions were imposed legally.
If central leaders of political parties campaign for local government poll candidates, that will destroy the non-partisan character of the polls and such activities will definitely violate the code of conduct for electioneering, meeting sources elaborated the EC's position.
The EC also told the AL delegation that it stands by the restrictions imposed on political leaders 'according to the laws' for ensuring holding of the polls in a non-partisan manner.
According to the new electoral rules and the code of conduct for electioneering, polls to city corporations and municipalities are non-partisan. Use of candidates' political affiliations in campaigns will constitute a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment and fine, and even cancellation of candidacy.
Electoral experts said political parties' ongoing activities centring the upcoming local government polls are in violation of the electoral rules and the code of conduct for electioneering.
As central and local level leaders of political parties had started campaigning for candidates in August 4 city corporation polls, the EC on July 20 issued a circular barring political party leaders from campaigning for local government candidates.
The circular said central and local level leaders of some political parties had violated the electoral code of conduct by campaigning for local government election candidates, and it directed the returning officers (RO) to take actions against such violations.
Two senior leaders of AL were already barred from campaigning for their party nominees in Sylhet and Barisal city corporations, sources in the EC Secretariat said.
Against such a backdrop, AL which formally nominated candidates for offices in the four city corporations ignoring the electoral code of conduct, yesterday sent its legal team to the EC to let the commission know that it does not intend to abide by the restrictions imposed on political leaders in the upcoming local government polls.
Asked about the EC's July 20 circular, Suranjit Sengupta said it was issued 'without any lawful authority'.
"We asked the commission to show the laws that allow it to impose such restrictions. But the commission could not show any specific provision," he claimed.
Asked whether AL central leaders will refrain from campaigning for candidates in the August 4 local government polls, Suranjit said there is no question of abiding by the restrictions 'issued unlawfully'. "Will you follow any illegal order?" Suranjit asked The Daily Star correspondent.
But, EC sources said the CEC and another election commissioner rejected the AL delegation's arguments and said the electoral rules clearly state that local government polls are absolutely non-partisan. Those will lose the non-partisan character if central leaders of political parties campaign for the candidates.
Contacted by The Daily Star after the meeting, Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain said the commission requested the AL leaders to refrain from campaigning for candidates in the local government polls.
"If a central leader of a political party campaigns for a local government election candidate, the candidate will automatically be publicised as a partisan candidate. It will destroy the non-partisan character of the polls," Sohul said.
He said the commission told the AL delegation that a central leader of a political party may campaign for a candidate in the local government polls only if the leader refrains from using his political identity and if the person is registered as a voter in that area.
"A person may campaign for his or her local representatives," he added. Sohul said for example Abul Mal Abdul Muhith, a member of AL's advisory council, is campaigning for a candidate in the Sylhet city corporation polls.
"We did not bar him from campaigning since he is a voter of that city corporation," Sohul added.
The unscheduled meeting between the EC and the AL delegation took place after a leader of the party in the morning communicated with the staff of CEC's office and expressed the party's desire to meet the poll chief. The CEC gave the party an appointment for a meeting at 2:30pm, without having any knowledge of the agenda, the sources said.
Senior officials in the EC Secretariat said in 2004 the erstwhile EC formally requested political parties not to campaign for local government poll candidates.
But this time around, the current EC did not make any such move although following the announcement of the August 4 local government election schedule on June 20, AL-led 14-party coalition nominated partisan mayoral candidates and announced the nominees publicly.
The EC did not take any action against political parties, although they had been blatantly electioneering for the upcoming local government polls.
Instead it maintained that it was overlooking the matter in efforts to create an 'electoral mood'.
AL OPPOSSES LARGE NUMBER OF POLL OBSERVERS
At the meeting with the EC, the AL delegation also questioned the commission's move of allowing a large number of observers to monitor the August 4 polls. The EC is allowing over 5,500 local and international observers to monitor the upcoming polls.
"The huge number of observers will create obstacles to holding the polls in a free and fair manner. Besides, many of the local observers might even have political affiliations," Suranjit said.
The EC however assured the AL delegation that the names of local observers will be disclosed at local levels allowing the candidates to check the authenticity of those.
"If any candidate's objection to an observer turns out to be genuine, the disputed person will be taken off the list of observers," Sohul assured.
AL POLL CAMPAIGNERS TO FOUR CITIES
Four AL campaign teams will go to the four cities where city corporation polls will be held on August 4, to campaign for 14-party nominees and to observe the polls. Sources said AL Presidium Member Amir Hossain Amu will lead a team that will go to Barisal, Abdur Razzak will lead a team in Khulna, Tofail Ahmed will lead a team in Rajshahi, and Suranjit Sengupata will lead one in Sylhet. AL organising secretaries responsible for overseeing divisional organisational activities and several other central leaders who are from the regions will also be included in respective teams.