Holding regular elections is not an easy task. The role of the EC has always been under critical scrutiny
Photo- Dhaka Tribune
When there is conflict, democracy is the solution. Conflict and political hostility not only result in devastating direct violence, they also impede growth, threaten public health, and aggravate poverty. Democracy largely depends on the functions of a number of institutions. Democratic values prevail essentially on the efficiency and integrity of these institutions.
From the centre to the periphery, everywhere, democracy flourishes if the people who are to take the responsibility of ruling, are elected through free and fair elections. Elections are the foundation stone of any democracy as the democracies are mainly representative in character. Free and fair elections are the strongest way to shape democracy.
The conduct of free, fair, and impartial elections depends much upon the performance of the three elements which form a triangle. They are the independent and impartial electoral machinery, the political parties and candidates, and the electorate. The entire election system is supposed to function under the Bangladesh Election Commission, which has been granted the freedom of functioning from the administration under the constitution.
Holding regular elections is not a small and easy task. The role of the EC has always been under critical scrutiny in every election, be it parliamentary polls, or any other local government election.
The recently held upazila election displayed the EC before the people very badly. It is perceived that the election system has been pushed behind to the 80s, when rigging through violence and administrative support was widespread.
Bangladesh has been in political turmoil for a long time. The country faces issues of long-term sustainability, not only in the context of global recession, but also due to domestic political uncertainties.
If a constitutional body like the EC succumbs to the pressures of hoodlums of the ruling party, can anyone expect that democracy has a future in Bangladesh?
The credit and discredit, both for elections in the “Bangladesh-style” democracy, goes to the institution of the EC. Now, this is up to the EC to decide, to credit or discredit.
The upazila election was a non-partisan one. There was no party symbol for the candidates. But Bangladesh saw how brutally the ruling party could exert its influence in a local government election, and the most pathetic one was the role of the EC.
The first and second phases of the upazila election were reasonably peaceful, but from the second phase, the show was fully taken over by ruling party men with the help of local administrations.
The role of the EC is to provide a level playing field for all parties and candidates. In the just-held upazila elections, the day-long coverage of the TV channels, as well as the stories in the newspapers and online news sites, suggest that the EC kept the field only for the ruling party-backed candidates.
Even in some places like the Laxmipur Sadar, it was seen that the on-duty officials (polling officers, assistant presiding officers, etc) were on their desks with sealed (with the symbols of particular candidates) ballot papers. The entire election system was seen to be messed up, and the EC had no way to avoid its responsibility.
Here comes the process of appointment to the commission. The civil society has been crying for an impartial selection committee for the EC for a long time. But the reality is too different. The present method of appointment is through an executive decision, where the president approves the appointment based on the proposal given by the government.
BNP bitterly criticised the EC’s “partisan” activities. But there is public perception that it will do the same thing after coming to power. Instead of just criticising, the civil society and political parties can sit together to draw up a concrete proposal for appointing election commissioners in an acceptable and neutral process.
There is also a strong suggestion for granting financial autonomy to the EC. This would avert any potential conflict of interest, and ensure that the EC works in a transparent and impartial manner.
The EC is not adequately equipped to regulate the political parties. It can think of its role in enforcing inner-party democracy, and the regulation of party finances.
Everyone wants to see that the EC becomes the final trend-setter of the electoral activities of political parties. There is also an expectation from the commission that it would go for fixing policies regarding finalisation of electoral roles, government sponsored advertisements prior to election, restriction on the movement of ministers, MPs, and other political hi-ups in the poll areas, effective prohibition of campaigning during the last 48 hours, transfers and appointments of officers identified with election machinery, etc.
The upazila election frustrated common citizens. The EC itself earned a bad name. It is only fair to the citizens of our country that the EC plays a proactive role and uses its constitutional powers effectively, and the judiciary ensures the legitimacy of this power in the future.
Source: Dhaka Tribune