LEVEL-PLAYING FIELD FOR CITY POLLS

EC’s sincerity questioned

A level-playing field for candidates from all sides in the ensuing civic polls is hardly visible as the Election Commission has neither moved to stop alleged violation of electoral code of conducts by the ruling party men nor ensured an environment so that the pro-opposition aspirants could campaign without fear.
Election experts observed that the EC was apparently unwilling to exercise its authority to create a level-playing field for candidates from all sides though it has ‘enough’ authority to do so.
An uneven political atmosphere is prevailing forcing most of the pro-opposition aspirants to avoid appearance in public for fear of arrest and harassment while pro-government aspirants have begun electioneering in breach of code of conducts.
Some observers noted that alongside the commission the government has a role to play to ensure a level-playing field in the polls slated for April 28.
Former chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda told New Age on Tuesday the commission has the authority to level the field for all candidates.
He, however, said alongside the commission, the government should play a role here. ‘The commission is dependent on bureaucrats and police administration to conduct the election. But neither the bureaucracy nor the police administration is ultimately accountable to the commission. At the end of the day, they are accountable to the government. So, they will act the way the government wants them to.’
When his attention was drawn to the fact that the aspirants backed by the opposition are taking preparations for election from their hideouts, the former CEC said the commission should instruct the police not to harass the candidates unless they are convicted by a court.
Badiul Alam Majumder, the secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, a civic platform working on election and democracy in the country, told New Age that the EC has ‘almost unlimited power’ to ensure a free and fair election.
‘They can do anything and everything except turning a day into a night. But they are not doing so,’ he said.
He referred to the court verdict on the Altaf Hossain versus Abul Kashem case with the DLR number 45 of 1993 to point out how powerful the EC is.
‘The court verdict says that the EC has immense power. It also says the commission can even add to the statutory rules – an authority generally preserved for the legislature – to ensure free and fair elections [Altaf Hussain vs Abul Kashem, 45 DLR],’ he added.
The constitution provides the commission with a ‘reservoir of power’ to ensure such elections (Afzal Hossain vs Abul Kashem, 45 DLR) in a free and fair manner.
Thus, he added, the commission is obliged not only to hold elections, but to ensure that the polls are credible.
Fear of arrest or at least harassment in ‘politically-motivated cases’ ahead of the election has gripped the candidates backed by the opposition camp after Dhaka Metropolitan Police joint commissioner Monirul Islam said police would arrest those who have cases against them whenever they would appear in public.
The ruling party-supported aspirants were seen leading large processions during collection and filing of nomination papers flouting the electoral code while most of the pro-opposition aspirants submitted their nominations through their representatives fearing arrest or harassment.
Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and several former ministers attended a meeting of Awami League-supported mayoral aspirant Annisul Huq at Suchana Community Centre at Adabar Saturday evening breaching the electoral code.
On Friday, prime minister Sheikh Hasina introduced Annisul Huq and Sayeed Khokon to her party activists at Ganabhaban and asked them to work for the two party-backed candidates though the civic polls are a non-partisan affair.
But the commission took no steps even against these visible violations. When asked by reporters, EC secretary Sirazul Islam and the respective returning officers said they were not aware of any such incidents.
Asked what measures the EC would take for those aspiring candidates who have gone into hiding fearing arrest, chief election commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad told newsmen, ‘I cannot give any assurances in this regard. How can I find those out who have voluntarily gone into hiding?’
Asked whether the EC has issued any instructions to the police not to harass aspiring candidates, election commissioner Mohammad Abdul Mobarak said law had not empowered the EC to issue such orders. ‘The court issues arrest warrants, so it is a matter to be decided by the court. We cannot interfere in the activities of the court. Rather the court can interfere in our activities.’
Asked how a level-playing field could be ensured in the election, when aspiring candidates from the opposition camp are on the run fearing arrest and police harassment on the one hand and on the other hand the candidates from the ruling camp are holding meetings and carrying out electioneering in breach of electoral code of conduct, Abdul Mobarak said, ‘If anyone is harassed by law enforcers unjustifiably, he should go to the court to seek justice.’ He said, ‘A dying patient should not think of anything other than rushing to the hospital. Those who are wanted by the police must go to the court to seek bail instead of taking part in the election.’
When asked about the EC’s measures for ensuring a level-playing field, Abdul Mobarak on Monday told a newsmen, ‘How can a level-playing field be ensured when bombs are hurled?’
Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain said the commission has the authority to ensure a free and fair election. ‘It is the commission which should enforce its laws to stop violation of electoral code of conducts and thus to ensure a level playing field.’
Asked about the fact that the pro-opposition aspiring candidates are taking election preparations from their hideouts, the former election commissioner said the commission should address the problem.

Source: New Age

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