With the Election Commission voluntarily relinquishing its power to cancel candidature upon violation of electoral code of conduct during the polls, I think it is rather safe to say we are witnessing a clear intention to prolong the existing conflict between the government and the opposition regarding the caretaker issue. Alarmingly, it is quite evident that government institutions are playing an active role in ensuring that this political impasse does not come to an end. I say this because the EC handed over its power to cancel candidature as per the prescription of the government or more specifically, the law ministry. While talks have been rampant, even within the government quarters to strengthen the EC, such action clearly point towards the contrary. So what is the government actually trying to convey by the exclusion of article 91(E) of the RPO that empowers the EC to disqualify candidates?
While the whole country is waiting eagerly for a much needed dialogue between the two major parties regarding the nature of the government that is going to hold the upcoming election, compelling the EC to hand over its most effective tool is nothing but an unnecessary provocation. It seems the government implicitly wants the opposition to take to the streets, paralyse the country and eventually hurt the economy. If the government’s rationale behind exclusion of article 91(E) is to show that they can be impartial in terms of disqualification of candidates as well, then they should have refrained from publicly declaring their intention to strengthen the EC. The way things are going, the EC only stands to become a defunct institution. The government’s duplicity in this regard is quite evident and the current political climate does not show any sign that will harness trust between the two major parties. What is more embarrassing is the fact that the officials of the Election Commission did not have a satisfactory response when asked about the reasons behind such a move.
While the Awami League government seems to have chalked out a vague plan regarding the upcoming national election, it should be noted that any attempt to utilise government institutions to manipulate an election of such magnitude has terrible consequences for the future. In essence it puts our hard earned democracy in jeopardy. All national elections held under the caretaker government since 1991 has been deemed to be relatively fair. Here unlike most of the times during five year tenure, the government machinery actually by and large acted on behalf and in favour of the people. It should also be mentioned that the caretaker system not only acted as a facilitator of four fair general elections but also as a lone guardian of that single vote that a citizen of our country hold so dearly. In a country like Bangladesh where the democracy is imperfect and yet to become people centric, that single vote remains to be the last basic democratic right which the people are left with to make themselves heard. However, if there is a feeling of disenfranchisement among the people due to a conscious attempt by the government machinery to take away their right to vote freely and fairly, it has grave consequences in the form of people losing faith on democratic principles and a substantial loss of credibility of that particular political party behind the government.
Politics apart, we need a strong, effective and credible Election Commission for the future. More importantly we need an independent Election Commission which is beyond the influence of the executive at any given point in time. It only requires strong political will to ensure implementation. If the EC is used as a pawn in the ever-changing political game in our country, we cannot expect to see a strong institution any time soon.
The Awami League government’s initiative to turn the Election Commission into a toothless tiger can be only termed as mindless and malicious at best. It is also rather difficult to politically justify this move, especially given the political deadlock and people’s expectation of a viable closure to this matter. If the government is alarmed by the performance of the candidates backed by them in the recently concluded mayoral elections, then weakening the EC will not do them any good in the long run. Their focus should be on governance and their faith should be on democracy. If the Awami League somehow manages to get labelled as the party that took away the people’s mandate by corrupting and marginalising government institutions it will not have a political future. However, there is still time to avoid conflict and come to a solution that will end this stalemate. The question is, whether such an endeavour will at all be taken to free the people from frustration and uncertainty.