EC bill passed, snubbing all concerns
It took almost 50 years to initiate a move to have a law on forming the Election Commission, and a bill to that end was passed in parliament in only about 180 minutes yesterday, amid protests from the opposition lawmakers.
The bill was passed just 10 days after the cabinet approved the draft in a meeting on January 17.
Following the incorporation of a few minor changes, Law Minister Anisul Huq tabled the "Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Appointment Bill, 2022" for passage around 11:15am yesterday, with Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in the chair.
Joining a discussion on the bill, 14 MPs, including those from BNP, Jatiya Party, Workers Party, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, slammed the move, saying the law was being formulated hurriedly and without holding discussions with political parties and other stakeholders.
They said the proposed law is actually meant for constituting a search committee, not for forming the EC.
Besides, they claimed it contradicts the constitution, which prescribed making a specific law on EC formation. But the bill aims to form a search committee instead.
Ten lawmakers from the BNP, JP and Gonoforum as well as an independent MP opposed the bill. They demanded that it be withdrawn and sent to the parliamentary standing committee concerned for public opinion.
The demand was, however, muffled by voice votes since the ruling Awami League holds an absolute majority in parliament.
The bill was then passed, around 1:50pm.
Speaking against the bill, BNP MPs demanded forming a polls-time neutral caretaker government to hold the next general election, due late next year, in a fair manner.
The law minister and MPs from JP, JSD and Workers Party, however, spoke against the caretaker government system, terming it unconstitutional.
As per recommendations of two opposition MPs, the bill underwent some minor changes before it was passed.
Now, a female member has to be included in the six-member search committee, which will recommend names to the president for appointing the chief election commissioner and other commissioners.
Earlier, the bill said the search committee would get 10 working days from its formation to recommend the names. Now, it will get 15 working days to complete the task.
The bill was previously called "Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Appointment Bill, 2022". It was later renamed "Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Appointment Bill, 2022".
The Jatiya Sangsad passed the bill giving a legal shield to the CECs and other commissioners appointed through search committees in the past.
Ahead of the general elections in 2014 and 2018, president picked CECs and other commissioners in 2012 and 2017 following recommendations by search committees.
As per the new law, the six-member search committee, to be headed by a judge of the Supreme Court's Appellate Division, will recommend names to the president for the EC appointments.
The judge will be nominated by the chief justice.
The five other members will include a High Court judge, to be nominated by the CJ, the comptroller and auditor general, the chairman of Bangladesh Public Service Commission and two distinguished citizens nominated by the president. Of the two, one will be female.
The committee can propose two names to the president for the post of CEC. It can also recommend two persons against each of the commissioner's post.
The government move to enact the law came nearly 50 years after the constitution prescribed enacting a specific law for forming the EC.
It came when almost all political parties demanded a specific law in this regard during a dialogue with President Abdul Hamid.
The president initiated the dialogue with registered political parties, seeking suggestions on forming an independent, neutral and credible EC. The talks continued from December 20 to January 17.
A total 25 political parties participated in the dialogue while seven rejected it terming it meaningless.
Civil society platforms too demanded enactment of an EC law.
The tenure of the current commission, led by CEC KM Nurul Huda, expires next month.
On multiple occasions last month, the law minister said there was no way to pass a new law for constituting the EC in such a short time.
He also said a law so crucial for the people cannot be passed overnight.
But the government has been able to have it passed in parliament.
The law will come into force with the president's approval.
Even if the president approves it immediately, the search committee will have to finalise its recommendations in a hurry.
If the president forms the search committee on Sunday, the committee will get only 11 working days before the tenure of the EC expires on February 14.
WHAT MPS SAID
Several opposition MPs, including Jatiya Party's Fakhrul Imam and Mujibul Haque Chunnu, BNP's Rumeen Farhana and Harunur Rashid, mentioned that article 48 of the constitution says the president shall act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister except for appointing the PM and the chief justice.
Harunur strongly opposed the bill saying it was a ploy by the government to execute its new strategy for the next national election.
Lambasting the law minister, Rumeen said there would have been transparency had one representative each from the Awami League, the main opposition party, and the third-largest party (the BNP) were in the search committee.
She said that according to the proposed law, the EC would be formed as per the will of the government and the prime minister, and that EC will not be independent. It will be the ministry of election affairs of the government, she said.
JP's Shameem Haider Patwary said the proposed law says the president would appoint the CEC and other ECs, which contradicts Article 48.
"Therefore, everything, including the formation of the search committee and appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners, would be done as per the will of the prime minister."
Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon proposed sending the names of the people picked by the search committee to the business advisory committee of parliament. He said this would be inclusive.
Law minister Anisul Haq refuted the MPs' criticism.
On the allegation that two ECs formed through search committees were given amnesty by the proposed law, he said no one was given indemnity.
"Indemnity and legal coverage are not the same thing."
A discussion of the Left Democratic Alliance yesterday criticised the government for enacting the EC law. It said the aim of the law was to form a subservient EC.
Participating in the discussion on the thanksgiving motion on the president's speech, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said accepting 22 different amendments on the law, brought by the opposition parties, meant that the proposed law was initiated by the BNP and all opposition parties in parliament.
"They told today [yesterday] that they don't know about the bill. But most of the amendments brought by all the opposition parties including Jatiya Party, BNP, Workers Party, Jasad and Gonoforum, were accepted. Therefore, it seems, it is the proposed law of the opposition," she added.
The alliance announced countrywide demonstrations tomorrow to protest the law.