Search for EC will end but crisis may continue

The country is witnessing a serious exercise in search of honest and capable person(s) with strong personality as some have defined the move to appoint the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and four members of the election commission (EC). The existing commission’s tenure is expiring this month. So a new Election  Commission has to be set up now to hold the next parliamentary election scheduled for sometime in 2019.
It is expected that the next poll would be held under the present government. However, many are voicing the misgivings as to whether or not such a vigorous search will be meaningful at a time under an authoritarian regime in which an EC consisting of strong and principled persons would be able to actually deliver.
Doubts persist
The way the search is going on suggests it may turn out to be a futile exercise at the end because the EC will be what the government would like it to be. It may not be proper to compare the move as an eye-wash; but many believe it is being orchestrated to befool the nation.
The search committee held meetings with representatives of the political parties last week when the High Court also issued a show cause on the concerned government authorities to explain in four weeks why the law for the constitution of the EC should not be framed. Such a law is essential to give election commission a legal framework in the light of the constitution. In that case the need for a search committee and political controversy as well as some misgivings about the move could have been avoided.
In that case, the President can appoint the persons – one Chief Election Commissioner and four Election Commissioners on advice of the Prime Minister following the criteria and eligibility of the persons set in the law against those posts.
In the present move to find the eligible candidates, the six-member search committee has short listed twenty persons on Tuesday last following a meeting held at the Supreme Court Judges’ lounge.  They are scheduled to hand over the list of 10 persons to the President on February 8. No doubt the committee has been able to identify the prospective persons and the names suggest they are highly qualified although with a mixed political loyalty and also acceptability on either side.  A total of 26 registered parties handed over 125 names, which were later short listed to 20.
But the major issue, which is agitating the process of new EC formation, is how to hold the next parliamentary election free and fair. People observing the country’s political crisis and the existing political divide clearly believe that the crisis is much deeper than the EC formation.
Search goes on
The point to ponder is that if the incumbent regime remains in power –the Prime Minister and her cabinet will be in office to run the government and the parliament will not be prorogued allowing the MPs to contest the poll from the seat of power – then there will be no level playing field for the opposition to challenge the incumbents.
In that case, even if the country has a strong EC, any move from its side to hold a free and fair election will simply not be possible.
Ruling party cadres exercise their complete hold on the country and they will make sure that they win the contested seats. Not a single sitting MP will agree to contest election after resigning from their seats. This is because polls would not be held under a caretaker government and a partisan government will be at the helm and calling the shots. So a free and fair election may become an illusion. Many believe that an election time caretaker administration in any form will be necessary for holding a free and fair election and not a powerful EC alone.
Former CECs ATM Shamsul Huda and Abu Hena, Prof Abul Kashim of Dhaka University and a host of other civil society leaders in the meeting with the search committee laid emphasis on finding highly credible persons for the posts. Their unquestioned efficiency, honesty and integrity will be the basis for making the EC acceptable to the nation. It is an open secret how the outgoing EC was manipulated by ruling party leaders and cadres to rig elections in their favour.
So what they are saying does not is really matter but what the President as the most trusted person of the Prime Minister will do needs to be watched. In fact the removal of the caretaker government has left the field open to manipulation and fair election may remain an illusion until things are changed.
Dispute solution unlikely
On January 28, the search committee held in its first meeting with 12 eminent personalities of the country’s civil society and requested 31 political parties to recommend five names each for the post of Chairman and EC members to the additional secretary of the Cabinet Division. The members of the search committee are: Justice Obaidul Hassan, a High Court judge, Muhammed Sadique, chairman of Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC), Masud Ahmed, Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh, Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, trustee board member of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), and Shireen Akhter, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Chittagong University.
The other eminent personalities attended the meeting are: former judge of the High Court division of the Supreme Court Justice Abdur Rashid, former Vice-Chancellors of Dhaka University Professor A K Azad Chowdhury and Professor S M A Faiz, Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, Professor Dr Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, Local Government Expert Professor Dr Tofayel Ahmed, former Chief Election Commissioners Abu Hena and A T M Shamsul Huda, former Election Commissioners retired Brigadier General Muhammad Sakhawat Hussain and Muhammed Sohul Hussain, former Inspector General of Police Nurul Huda and Secretary of SUJAN Dr Bodiul Alam Majumdar.
Unverified sources in the ruling Awami League said the party gave five names that included former principal secretary Abdul Karim, former senior secretary Monzur Hossain, former inspector general of police Nur Mohammad, former PMO secretary Molla Wahiduzzaman and Dhaka University’s Prof Sadeka Halim to the panel.
BNP sources said there was discussions within the party to give some names, including those of former secretary Asafuddowla, former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed, local government expert Tofail Ahmed, eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik and Dhaka University’s Prof Tasneem Siddique. Names of former cabinet secretary Sadat Hossain and former additional secretary to the EC Jesmin Tuly are also on card.
Analysts say no matter how hard the Search Committee tries to fulfill its task, at the end the EC so formed will be disputed. The sad part is that all the participants are aware of it too.
Source: weekly holiday

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