Decides not to curtail its authority
In the face of widespread criticism, the Election Commission has finally backtracked on its move to scrap its sweeping authority to cancel one’s candidacy in the parliamentary polls for serious electoral offences.
The commission yesterday decided not to propose any amendment to Article 91E of the Representation of the People Order (RPO) that empowers the EC to revoke a candidature.
The EC said it had made the decision following protests and opposition from political parties and concerns voiced by people and the media.
“Earlier, we decided to scrap it because of some inconsistencies in Article 91E of the RPO. But there had been a wave of protests from different quarters soon after the decision was made public,” said Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz at his office in the EC Secretariat.
The latest decision comes two days after the EC sent an explanation to the media, showing its logic to scrap Article 91E of the RPO.
Experts hailed the EC’s decision to retain its authority, saying the article will help prevent violations of electoral laws at the upcoming national election.
The EC’s authority to cancel candidacies was restored in 2008, and it effectively worked in preventing the candidates from violating electoral laws in the polls.
The EC had been given the authority before the 2001 parliamentary polls, but it was scrapped after a brief period in the face of opposition from political parties.
The restoration of the provision in 2008 helped the EC prevent violations of electoral laws, such as blocking roads for rallies or processions, pasting posters and daubing walls with graffiti.
But in a surprise move on July 28, the EC, now led by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, decided to scrap this authority, and asked its secretariat to send a proposal to the law ministry for abolishing Article 91E of the RPO.
The move drew widespread criticism from former election commissioners, civil society members and the media. They said if the authority was scrapped, it would weaken the EC and render it helpless in checking those candidates who use muscle power to win the battle of ballots.
CEC Ahmad and his team, however, ignored the criticism, and remained rigid on their stance.
On July 30, the CEC defended the decision, claiming that Article 91E was meaningless and inapplicable.
Even though the EC yesterday retracted its previous decision, Commissioner Nawaz tried to defend its earlier stance to scrap the authority.
Asked why the EC had made a U-turn two days after coming forth with an explanation, he said the commission believed the explanation was right, but it had changed its stance to show respect to public opinion.
“The commission has similar powers to cancel candidature according to another article, 91A of the RPO. But there has been strong public opinion for retaining Article 91E. We have decided to keep it out of respect for the public demand, as it [EC] is a people’s organisation.”
Referring to some news reports that the election commissioners were divided over the scrapping of the article, Nawaz claimed, “The commission made the latest decision unanimously as it has done in the past.”
The EC’s latest decision has been welcomed by many who had voiced their concerns over the commission’s previous move.
M Hafizuddin Khan, former adviser to a caretaker government, said, “It is good that the commission has finally paid attention to public opinion.”
Stressing the need for applying authority efficiently, he hoped the EC would play an important role in preventing violations of electoral laws at the upcoming national election.
Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain said that finally good sense had prevailed, but the decision from the EC came quite late.
“However, it will not be enough for the commission to regain the public trust that has been lost due to some controversial decisions,” he said.
Sakhawat urged the commission to cancel all its “controversial decisions”.
He suggested that the EC hold a dialogue with all stakeholders before bringing about changes to any electoral law.
Election in January?
EC Secretary Muhammed Sadique told The Daily Star that the EC Secretariat has been making preparations with the target of holding the parliamentary polls in January next year.
“We are making preparations on our part. But it is the commission that will ultimately decide the election schedule,” he said.
The next parliamentary election is supposed to be held any time between October 25 this year and January 24 next year.
Source: The Daily Star