Election code breakers go unpunished
Election code violations are rampant ahead of the January 7 election, but the Election Commission has yet to take any punitive action against the rule breakers.
Under section 18 of the electoral code of conduct, violation of election rules by aspiring candidates is punishable by six months' jail or Tk 50,000 in fine or both. Under the section, the EC can also slap a fine of Tk 50,000 on political parties.
But so far, the commission's actions have been confined only to serving show-cause notices to over 60 candidates, mostly Awami League's incumbent lawmakers or its leaders contesting as independent candidates.
Having enjoyed such impunity, aspiring candidates, including sitting MPs and ministers, are violating the electoral code of conducts at will, with little or no regard for the rules.
Until Sunday evening, the election enquiry committees served notice to 62 aspirants for code violations, said Ashok Kumar Debnath, an additional secretary to the EC.
The Daily Star has names of 38 of them -- 31 of whom are AL picks while the rest seven are either independents or from other parties.
Of the 38 aspirants, 25 are sitting AL lawmakers, three Jatiya Party MPs and one independent lawmaker.
Those who have been served notice include Golam Dastagir Gazi, minister for textiles; Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management; Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT; Zahid Ahsan Russel, state minister for sports; AL lawmaker Mohibbur Rahman from Patuakhali-4; AL lawmaker Shamim Osman from Narayanganj-4; AL nominee for Magura-1 Shakib Al Hasan; and AL nominee for Sunamganj-4 Mohammad Sadiq.
The violations include staging processions during nomination submission; holding rallies after nomination submission; seeking votes in rallies; and using government vehicles for electioneering.
None of these are allowed under election codes, as election aspirants cannot hold election campaigns until after allocation of election symbol, slated for December 18.
Some of the rule violators are repeat offenders.
Natore-2 AL lawmaker Shafiqul Islam Shimul is one of the frontrunners when it comes to election lawbreaking.
Also a vice-president of Natore Awami League, he broke the electoral code at least four times in the past – in 2015, 2016, 2021, 2022 – in union parishad, municipal and district council elections.
In 2015, when he was served a show-cause notice, he apologised to the EC and promised not to violate the election code again, according to media reports.
But he broke the promise in 2016, 2021 and 2022.
This time, Shimul held a rally and a procession, causing traffic congestion in his constituency on November 28.
The Electoral Enquiry Committee for Natore-2, led by Assistant Judge Sharmin Khatun, issued a show-cause notice, demanding an explanation.
In his response, the lawmaker promised not to repeat the offence, and the enquiry committee on December 1 decided to recommend to the EC to exonerate him, Muzammel Haque, bench assistance of Natore court, said.
Shimul did not respond to our call and text message for comments.
Incumbent AL lawmaker Omor Faruk Chowdhury, who is vying for Rajshahi-1, held a public meeting on a schoolground on November 17, two days after the polls schedule was announced.
The EC on November 22 warned him for violating the election law.
Undeterred, Omor Faruk, also a former state minister, held a rally on December 2 in Tanore municipality area, where he sought votes.
On Sunday, the Electoral Enquiry Committee for Rajshahi-1 served him a show-cause notice, asking him to explain his action by today.
The Rajshahi lawmaker faced allegations of election code violation in the past as well. During the Rajshahi City Corporation election in July 2018, he held a meeting with local influentials to seek votes for a candidate. Earlier, during the union parishad polls, he was served a show-cause notice for breaking the election law, according to media reports.
He did not respond to our calls and text message for comments.
On November 30, Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Ahsan Habib Khan warned against election code violations.
"Stern actions will be taken as per the law if any candidate violates the electoral code of conduct," he had said.
As of yesterday, the EC did not bring anyone to book.
Former Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said the Returning Officer, through executive magistrate and judicial magistrate, should have taken "instant steps" against code violations.
Instead, the EC is now depending on Electoral Enquiry Committees, which are tasked with investigating and making recommendations about such allegations within three days, he said.
"But we are not aware what recommendations they [committees] are giving. We haven't seen the Election Commission take any step in this regard," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
People are watching the violations and raising questions about it, he said, adding, "All this has cumulative effects [on the election process]."
EC Additional Secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath said the enquiry committees are supposed to make recommendations to the Election Commission for taking actions.
"But we haven't received any such recommendations [about punitive actions] from any enquiry committees yet. The commission will take the matter into consideration only after getting the recommendations", he told The Daily Star yesterday.