EC didn’t dig its own grave: CEC
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal today said Representation of the People Order (RPO) Amendment Bill 2023 -- passed by the National Parliament last week -- will strengthen their existing authority as the government amended the RPO in consultation with EC.
"No authority of the Election Commission (EC) has been abolished with the amendment; it has been consolidated. Many have commented that EC has dug its own grave. The Election Commission may make mistakes but it didn't dig its own grave," he said.
He made the comment today while presenting his position in the Election Building after the RPO Amendment Bill was passed by the parliament and gazetted with the president's signature.
The chief election commissioner explained the provisions of the law one by one. He even shared what was offered and what was kept from the government.
"The Cabinet did not make changes, they asked for our opinion. In 91A, there was a minor change. We asked to stop voting in any seat in case of irregularities. They said voting should be stopped only if the election is obstructed. It seems very logical to us. And no change has been made by the government or parliament. From there, this law was passed in the form of a bill and gazetted after the president's assent on Sunday," he said.
The CEC said he is sharing this with the media as comments have come from various quarters, and those might confuse people.
"There are also comments that the government has revised the RPO to take control. But, the government has not revised the RPO. They did as per our proposal. The government has agreed to the amendments sought by the Election Commission to make the latter's position more consolidated and strengthened. It has increased our power," he also said.
Praising the government's effort in amending RPO, the CEC said the government has amended the law to regulate elections.
"As I said earlier, it was not done by the government. The government has shown us respect... they took our proposed amendments to the parliament and passed them."
Calling the report of a newspaper denoting that the Election Commission has proposed to "reduce its own power" absolutely absurd, the CEC said the commission has never sent a proposal to reduce its powers and it can't do that either.
"In some places the words polling and election are mentioned. We have replaced the word election with polling in three places. This is a clerical correction. But there is a difference between clerical correction and amendment. Clerical correction is just correction," he also said.
It is not advisable to belittle the Election Commission by making unnecessary, misleading comments, he said.
Saying that the power of the presiding officer has been "enhanced," he said no one praised, criticised or discussed it.
"Its purpose is to clarify the responsibilities of the presiding officer. If he does not fulfill his duties properly, it should be termed as a criminal offence and he should be brought under punishment," he added.
The commission can cancel the candidature due to existing provisions, he said, adding, if there are irregularities, before the election, EC has provisions to investigate. There is a clear provision to cancel the candidature of the person who has committed irregularities if proved in the investigation.
"If we can determine the responsibility of who committed the irregularities, then we can cancel his candidature and continue the election," he added.
The law previously stated, in Section 91(A)A of the RPO, that the Election Commission may "stop the polls at any polling station [or entire constituency, as the case may be] at any stage of the election if it is convinced that it shall not be able to ensure the conduct of the election justly, fairly and in accordance with law due to malpractices, including coercion, intimidation and pressures, prevailing at the election."
The amendment replaced the word "election" in this section with "polling". Whereas polling denotes the activity on the day of the vote, election denotes the entire process.
The 'Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2023' was passed in the parliament on Tuesday with the key amendment authorising the Election Commission to postpone or cancel the results or voting of one or more than one polling stations in any number of constituencies on polling day, but not the entire election to a constituency.
Law Minister Anisul Haq moved the bill in the parliament, which was passed by voice vote. Through this, amendments were brought to the Representation of the People Order, or RPO - the law that governs elections in Bangladesh.
But there is no provision of cancelling the entire election to a constituency in the proposed law, as happened during the Gaibandha-5 by-election last October.
After that paragraph, a new paragraph is included in the amended RPO. The new paragraph states: "The Commission may withhold the result of any polling station or polling stations, if it is convinced that the result of such polling station or polling stations was grossly prejudiced by malpractices including coercion, intimidation, manipulation or otherwise, and after prompt inquiry of the matter, in a manner as it may deem appropriate, direct publication of the result of such polling station or polling stations or declare the election of any such polling station or polling stations cancelled with direction for holding of a fresh poll in such polling station or polling stations, as that may seem to it to be just and appropriate."