Only a level-playing field can make difference: TIB
Ensuring that the upcoming parliamentary polls are free, fair and inclusive is a challenge in pursuit of good governance and a functioning democracy, Transparency International Bangladesh has observed.
It also said initiatives like using EVMs and a voter list with photographs would be meaningless if an atmosphere for fair and inclusive polls could not be created for all political parties.
The anti-graft watchdog came up with the observations at a virtual press conference on "Inclusive Polls: Doable to Overcome Challenges of Democratic Good Governance" marking the International Day of Democracy yesterday.
Addressing the conference, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said it was possible to hold free, fair, and inclusive polls under a partisan government if an ideal atmosphere could be ensured.
"The role of the [polls-time] government has to be within a lawfully determined limited framework," he said.
He said the provision that allows ministers and lawmakers to run for parliament without quitting their positions has to be repealed.
Currently, it is constitutionally not possible to have a polls-time "caretaker" government, which had served the country before, Iftekharuzzaman added.
In a keynote paper on the issue, Rafiqul Hasan, director of research and policy at the TIB, said different institutions responsible for upholding democracy had gradually weakened since 2013.
Opposition parties were yet to be strong or popular enough to emerge as a force playing an effective role in ensuring free and fair polls, he said.
Responding to a query, Iftekharuzzaman said it was unfortunate and unacceptable that institutions such as the administration and law enforcement agencies that are responsible for upholding democracy have been made into "partisan platforms".
He said that being an anti-graft watchdog, the TIB is concerned over the role of Jatiya Sangsad since it is one of the democratic institutions that represent the people and play an important role in holding the government accountable.
Stressing the importance of the polls-time roles of the administration and the law enforcement agencies, he said the neutral role that they should play was not visible during the previous elections.
The Election Commission needs to ensure that transfer and posting of officials of the administration and members of law enforcement agencies during polls-time happen under its supervision, he added.
The TIB executive director said the main concern was ensuring a "level-playing field", and there are two main challenges in achieving it.
"One is what will be the role of the polls-time government," he said, adding that there was need for bringing legal reforms to make sure the polls-time government is neutral and impartial.
"We believe the Election Commission also feels that way," he said, suggesting that the EC ask the government to formulate laws so that the polls-time government plays its due role and ensures a level-playing field.
In Bangladesh, the playing field becomes uneven when ministers and lawmakers run while still serving their posts, he said.
In such a situation, the candidates in question enjoy advantages, and local administration and law enforcement agencies come under a certain type of pressure, he added.
"The EC needs to look into this," he added.
Mentioning that access to the internet was throttled during the last polls, he said such obstacles should not be imposed again since the EC now considers social media important for fair polls.
A debate is still going on over EVMs, he said, urging the EC to suspend its decision to use them.
The EC should analyse EVM's cost-benefit aspects before making a final decision taking all stakeholders on board, he said.
Iftekharuzzaman said the EC needs to consider its roadmap a "working document" instead of something final.