The EC can only go so far with the old ways
If morning shows the day, as the proverb goes, the new Election Commission's is not exactly showing a very good day. If anything, its first few months in office have been more reflective of the old, bureaucratic ways of doing things than a genuine intent to build public trust with courage, determination and foresight. This is also evident from how it is approaching problems in the run-up to the June 15 Cumilla City Cooperation (CCC) election – its first major hurdle to overcome. The fact that the CEC has refused to exert his authority after a lawmaker reportedly flouted an official directive shows that the EC has a lot to do to effect change, nowhere more so than within itself.
Such helpless surrender, saying "we cannot do anything", is a throwback to the tendency of his predecessor who notoriously refused to take responsibility for any electoral irregularity at all. And this, we must say, is unbecoming of a commission tasked with damage control. It came with the promise of restoring confidence in the electoral system after two highly controversial general elections. No one expects it to deliver miracles. But executing the right policies and standing firm in the face of opposition, particularly from the ruling quarters, is part of the job. It means finding ways around non-compliant parties as well as legal and institutional bottlenecks to prepare the ground for fair and participatory elections.
The EC's ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders involved should give it pause for thought. There are ideas galore, but ideas alone don't work without a strong motivation. During its sixth round of talks held on Sunday, former election commissioners shared some observations that are worth consideration, such as the importance of inclusive elections and the decisive role that the ruling party can play in creating a conducive environment. They talked about the importance of a neutral election-time government. One stressed the need for completing counting of votes in daytime to avoid the influence of "jinns and ghosts" after sunset. There was even a suggestion for placing the public administration and home ministries under the authority of the EC during polls to ensure the neutrality of these vital institutions.
The CEC also weighed in by reminding everyone that the EC alone cannot hold credible elections – that "voters and political parties are vital stakeholders" too. True, but where is the initiative to gain the trust of voters and opposition parties? What message do they get when the CEC refuses to take action to ensure that the rules apply to everyone during election campaigns? We urge the EC to own up to its part of the responsibility to hold fair elections. We also urge the government to ensure that it has full, unconditional support in fulfilling that responsibility.