Local polls allowed to go political
The August 4 polls to four city corporations and nine municipalities will be held as per schedule and political parties can contest them as the High Court (HC) yesterday declared the election schedule valid.
The HC also declared illegal and void the electoral rules disqualifying candidates using political affiliations in these elections.
The HC bench of Justice ABM Khairul Haque and Justice Md Abu Tariq declared valid the Election Commission (EC) schedule for holding the local government polls on August 4, saying the commission has completed preparing the voter lists of those areas.
Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda told reporters that the EC would follow the HC order and that they would later decide whether or not to appeal against the verdict.
The judgment came following a writ petition filed by Jasim Uddin Sarker, a Supreme Court (SC) lawyer and a leader of the Dhaka city unit of Jamaat-e-Islami, seeking directions to stop the August 4 elections.
Counsels for both the petitioner and the EC said following the HC verdict there is no bar now to holding the August 4 polls and participation of political parties in those elections.
Barrister Masood Reza Sobhan, counsel for Jasim Uddin, said, "The High Court has declared illegal the provisions for sentencing candidates to four months' imprisonment for violating the Election Commission's rules for not using political affiliations."
He said the top EC officials should resign as they have violated the constitution again and again.
EC's counsel Dr Shahdeen Malik said the HC has cancelled the electoral rules barring political parties from contesting the local government elections.
In the judgment, the HC observed that since the functions and activities of the political parties are acknowledged in the constitution, the electoral rules restricting the use of political parties' affiliation in the city corporation and municipality polls are illegal.
As per Article 152 of the constitution, political parties can run activities within and outside the parliament. "In the Local Government (City Corporation) Ordinance 2008 and the Local Government (Municipality) Ordinance 2008, there are no rules of depoliticisation. The rules in the Electoral Code of Conduct issued by the Election Commission restricting the use of political affiliation is in violation of the mother ordinances," the court said.
The government on May 14 issued gazette notifications promulgating the two ordinances for holding the elections. The EC issued the Code of Conduct in light of the ordinances. On June 20, it announced the poll schedule.
The HC said it could examine if the EC can make such policy decisions like holding elections to city corporations and municipalities without political parties.
"The Election Commission has been created under Article 118 of the constitution and its functions and duties have been determined in Article 119. But it has not been given the jurisdiction to make policy decisions including determination of the political characteristics of the elections," the court said.
It said there are no restrictions in the electoral ordinances that the candidates will have to give up politics for participating in the elections. The ordinances say they will have to give up party posts after taking oath as elected representatives of the city corporations and municipalities.
But these rules in the Electoral Code of Conduct have superseded the ordinances and making such rules is beyond the jurisdiction of the EC, the court observed.
Petitioner Jasim Uddin Sarker told The Daily Star that he is happy with the HC judgment declaring the EC rules illegal but that he would appeal in the SC against the part of the judgment that rejected his petition for stopping the local government polls.
On July 6, Jasim Uddin filed the writ petition as a public interest litigation, challenging the legality of the two ordinances promulgated by the government and the rules in the Electoral Code of Conduct.
He prayed to the HC to stay the EC's August 4 poll schedule.
Following the petition, an HC division bench comprised of Justice Md Imman Ali and Justice Md Emdadul Huq on July 15 issued a rule upon the government and the EC, asking them to explain within eight days why the EC's August 4 schedule for holding the local government elections without the final voter list should not be declared illegal.
The chief adviser, law secretary, cabinet secretary, the president's secretary and the EC were made the respondents.
Meanwhile, following a writ petition another HC bench comprised of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuque Hosain Ahmed yesterday issued a rule upon the government and the EC, asking them to show cause within three weeks why the schedule for holding elections to four city corporations on August 4 should not be declared illegal.
Kabir Ahmed, a voter in Barisal City Corporation, filed the writ petition.
Advocate Tajul Islam, barrister Fatema S Sobhan and advocate AFM Saiful Karim assisted barrister Masood Reza Sobhan in moving the petition while barrister Mahbubuddin Khokon appeared for Kabir Ahmed.