A roadmap without concrete solutions
The Election Commission just unveiled a roadmap to the next parliamentary election identifying key objectives, challenges and solutions, basically giving us a bird's-eye view of what to expect in the next 15 months or so in the run-up to the election. We have to give credit where credit is due, and in this case, it is in the EC's acknowledgement that it is part of the problem. It has identified 14 challenges to holding a fair election. And at the top of the list is the crisis of confidence it faces among opposition parties. While acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it, whether this will be the case in this respect remains to be seen.
From resolving its crisis of credibility to building confidence in EVMs to saving political activists and voters from threats of intimidation and reprisals, it will have to largely rely on the "will" of the government. So the question of will goes both ways, and shifting the burden only on the opposition is both impractical and irresponsible.
As well as the crisis of confidence, two other key obstacles that have been identified are the impartiality of administrative and police officials in performing their duties and the distrust of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Among other challenges are controlling money and muscle power, law and order, ensuring compliance with the electoral code of conduct, a level playing field for all parties, prevention of voter fraud and other irregularities, ensuring unrestricted access of candidates, polling agents and voters to polling stations, etc. The EC has also laid out 19 solutions to tackle these challenges to ensure what it underlined as its five objectives – "a participatory, transparent, impartial, acceptable and fair election".
But the most important question is, how to resolve its crisis of confidence? The EC was rather vague and at times contradictory on this front. At the unveiling ceremony on Wednesday, an election commissioner said the crisis will be resolved if the workplan they adopted can be implemented. That's a BIG if given the situation we're in at the moment. But then he said: "Sometimes many parties do not participate in elections as part of their political strategy. What can the EC do if a party does not participate?" Another commissioner also said that you cannot "force-feed" a party if it does not have the will. "The will is important." Such dismissive comments are precisely why the opposition camp thinks the EC doesn't have what it takes to create the ideal environment for a fair election.
The EC is also making it harder for them to accept it. It has arbitrarily decided to use EVMs despite opposition from at least 19 out of the 39 registered political parties, including BNP and Jatiya Party (Ershad). It has been totally silent on the ongoing assaults on BNP leaders and activists in their protest programmes. In its roadmap, it made no mention of what drastic measure it will take if the administration refuses to cooperate or comply with its neutrality directive. From resolving its crisis of credibility to building confidence in EVMs to saving political activists and voters from threats of intimidation and reprisals, it will have to largely rely on the "will" of the government. So the question of will goes both ways, and shifting the burden only on the opposition is both impractical and irresponsible.
We urge the EC to develop a more practical and result-oriented roadmap to meet these challenges with a critical focus on its own neutrality.