The 11th Parliamentary election is at our doorstep. The election schedule is expected to be declared at the beginning of November and the election to be held at the end of December. Even though formal electioneering will start in a few weeks, many potential candidates appear to be unaware of the relevant laws relating to candidatures for Parliament.
A potential candidate must be a voter in any constituency in Bangladesh, although the proposer and the seconder of a nomination must be voters of the relevant constituency. The candidate, his/her proposer or seconder must submit his/her nomination papers to the Returning Officer (RO) or Assistant Returning Officer, who will acknowledge their receipt, specifying the date and time. Candidates cannot submit nomination papers online, even though the Election Commission (EC) is reported to have recommended the amendment of the Representation of People Order, 1972 (RPO) for this purpose.
A candidate must submit with the nomination paper an affidavit highlighting his/her antecedents, potential sources of his/her election expenses and a copy of his/her last tax return. Submission of only the certificate from the NBR acknowledging the filing of his/her tax return is a violation of the law. The candidate must also include with his/her nomination paper an amount of Tk 20,000 as deposit. During the submission of the nomination paper, it is illegal to hold a procession or showdown.
Nomination papers that are incomplete or contain errors will be rejected, although not for errors that can be instantaneously remedied. However, the information contained in the affidavits cannot be altered or corrected.
In the past, there were isolated incidents where candidates were prevented from submitting their nomination papers. However, this was blatantly done during the last Paurashava/Union Parishad elections in Feni. For example, in Paurashava elections in Feni, Daganbhuiya and Parshuram Upazilas, 47 out of 51 seats, including for two Mayors, were elected unopposed because candidates belonging to opposition parties were prevented from submitting their nomination papers. Thus, one cannot rule out the possibility of this happening again in the coming Parliament election.
In the affidavit, eight types of information are required including: candidate’s educational qualification; list of present and past cases against him/her; his/her sources of income; his/her dependents’ assets and liabilities; and description of the extent of the implementation of commitments to voters which he/she made during past elections, if he/she was an MP. If false information is included or information is concealed in the affidavit, the candidate’s nomination paper is liable to be rejected, and if elected, his/her election is to be declared void. Thus, due diligence must be shown in preparing the affidavits, as the EC may, in the future, decide to scrutinise the affidavits. Such diligence is also needed as giving false information in sworn affidavits is a criminal offence under section 181 of CrPc. Any person can file a counter affidavit challenging the affidavit of a candidate.
Loan and bill defaulters are disqualified from running for Parliament. Executives of foreign funded-NGOs are also disqualified, unless three years have elapsed since his/her resignation or retirement. Similar disqualification is applicable to civil and military bureaucrats. In addition, any person convicted of a criminal offence involving moral turpitude for a minimum of two years is disqualified from contesting for five years following his/her release.
However, there is some confusion about when the period of disqualification for a person convicted of such crimes would begin—from the time of first conviction by the trial court or the after exhaustion of the appeal process? This question has not been yet settled by our higher judiciary. In the judgment on Hussain Muhammad Ershad vs Abdul Muqktadir Chowdhury [53DLR(2001)], Justice Md Joynul Abedin and Justice ABM Khairul Haque gave conflicting judgments. Justice Abedin held that the convicted person would be qualified to contest until his/her appeal is exhausted. Justice Haque, on the other hand, pronounced that the convicted person would be disqualified from the day of his/her first conviction. The Appellate Division also did not settle the matter. Even in the case of Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir v. Bangladesh [62DLR(AD)2010], the Court did not address this issue. However, from the judgments of Hussain Muhammd Ershad vs Abdul Muqtadir Chowdhury, Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir vs Bangladesh, and Md Mamun @ Walid Hasan vs State (Criminal Miscellaneous Case, 1000/2007), it is clear that the convicted person is qualified to contest the Parliament election if the Higher Court stays his/her sentence and conviction.
A candidate can run for Parliament in two ways: either as an independent candidate or as a candidate nominated by a registered political party. In the case of an independent candidate, he must submit with his/her nomination papers a list of signatures of one percent electors of the concerned constituency. This provision is not applicable to a candidate who was previously an MP. A potential independent candidate must be careful about this list as the claim of a single forged signature from a signatory could invalidate the candidate’s nomination papers.
In case of nomination by a registered party, the nomination papers of all such candidates must include a certificate from the party Secretary, Chairperson or a person of similar rank confirming his/her nomination by the party. Initially, a party can nominate more than one person in each constituency.
According to the RPO, local party leaders and activists of each constituency are required to prepare a panel of candidates, which the Parliamentary Board of the party will take into consideration in finalising the nomination for the constituency. It may be noted that the RPO, amended through promulgating an Ordinance in 2008, required the Parliamentary Board to nominate from the panel prepared at the grassroots. This was later changed by the new Parliament in 2009 while approving the Ordinance.
The provision regarding the withdrawal of nomination is very important for candidates, especially those nominated by political parties. Independent candidates can withdraw by notifying the RO in writing on or before the date of the withdrawal. However, in cases of nomination of multiple candidates in a constituency by a party, the party Secretary, Chairperson or a person of similar rank must notify in writing the name of their final nominee, as a result of which all other nomination papers would stand withdrawn. Thus, it would be suicidal for candidates interested to become rebel candidates to seek party nominations, as denial of party nomination will invalidate their candidacy.
Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar is Secretary, SHUJAN: Citizens for Good Governance.
Source: The Daily Star.