EC's electoral roadmap: All challenges not addressed
The Election Commission's roadmap for the next parliamentary polls is very much "conventional" and it does not detail how the challenges of holding a free, fair and inclusive election will be addressed, say experts.
According to them, the commission in its roadmap tried to justify its decision to use the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), a plan opposed by the majority of political parties.
The experts also raised questions about the definition of "participatory election" in the roadmap. The EC defined it as "active participation of the registered political parties willing to join polls."
"It seems the roadmap has drawn up the routine jobs of an Election Commission. They mentioned the challenges of holding a free and fair election, but did not say how those challenges will be addressed," former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Sakhawat Hossain told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said meeting some challenges, including ensuring impartiality of field-level administrative and police officials, law and order, and compliance with the electoral code of conduct, under the present circumstances largely depend on the government.
"The roadmap gives no indication of how those challenges will be met. They [EC] have identified the challenges, but those cannot be addressed only through dialogues," he added.
Munira Khan, former president of Fair Election Monitoring Alliance (FEMA), echoed Sakhawat's view saying the EC mentioned very conventional challenges. She said more challenges will emerge with the election drawing nearer.
Unveiling its work plan for the 12th national polls on Wednesday, the EC set the target of holding the election by January 29, 2024. It also stressed the need for building confidence in political parties on the use of EVMs, to be used in not more than 150 electoral constituencies.
According to the EC, 17 political parties during their talks with the commission opined in favor of the use of EVMs. However, The Daily Star found that at least four of them actually spoke against it.
Experts said the commission has tried to justify the use of EVMs although almost all opposition parties were against it.
"The Election Commission tried to justify the use of EVM, but did not talk about capturing of polling booths having EVMs. They talked about CCTVs, but did not mention whether those will be installed in every polling centre, every booth, and how those will be monitored," Sakhawat said.
Munira said it seems that voters of 150 constituencies would be "deprived of free and fair polling".
"Some voters will have the so-called advantage of using EVMs while the others won't. Can we then be able to term it a free and fair election?"
Mentioning that the whole world is facing an economic crisis, she suggested the EC refrain from incurring additional expenses for the use of EVMs.
"From now on, the Election Commission should think about holding the next general election with ballots. It will be good for the country's economy."
Munira also said, "I am not sure why the commission is attaching so much importance to this although many people and political parties have distrust in the system."
The EC said gaining the trust of political parties is a major challenge to holding a free and fair election. But experts said the commission's definition of "participatory election" is unacceptable.
"It is true that the commission cannot force any political party to join the polls, but they [EC] can't say this. I don't know why they said so. It is probably that I am not bothered about who is joining the polls or boycotting. If it is the commission's intention, then how will they hold an inclusive election?" questioned former election commissioner Sakhawat.
Accoding to Munira, the EC's focus should not be only on political parties, but on all stakeholders, including voters.
"The Election Commission should create such an environment that political parties and voters feel comfortable. The commission should have detailed the definition of participatory election."