News Analysis It’s absurd, suicidal

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad and his team have hurriedly taken an absurd decision to abolish the Election Commission’s sweeping authority to cancel one’s candidacy in the parliamentary polls for serious electoral offences.
If the authority is finally scrapped, the EC will be made weak and helpless in the face of candidates’ power to use violent means. This decision has triggered a huge uproar and people who have been advocating for long a stronger EC, termed it suicidal.
Rakibuddin on Tuesday, however, tried to justify their decision describing the EC’s authority “meaningless” “inapplicable” and “against the philosophy of level playing filed”.
In his view, this power is “meaningless” and “inapplicable” as it was never used.
The justification is quite ridiculous.
It is true article 91E of the Representation of the People Order that provides the EC with the power was not applied in the last parliamentary election. But it effectively worked as a threat to candidates to prevent them from making troubles in the polls.
And it contributed largely to enforcing other provisions to improve the nagging electoral culture by putting an end to bringing out processions or holding rallies by blocking roads, and to pasting posters and writing graffiti on walls of houses and office building.
And in the CEC’S view article 91E is against the level playing field because if a fresh election is held in a constituency after cancellation of all but one candidatures in a constituency, it will be unjustified for him whose candidature was not cancelled.
His other logic on level playing field was also not justified. The EC’s authority has no way harmed the level playing field. A similar article 17 of the RPO exists for decades which provides for a fresh election if a validly nominated candidate dies in the election process. This provision was applied several times in the past. And no candidate even complained.
The CEC and his team know there are bigger issues like the use of unauthorised money, muscle power, influencing the administration etc that can destroy the level playing field in elections. They have made no visible move in their tenure in last one and a half years to curb those causes in the upcoming parliamentary polls.
But all of a sudden, the CEC and his team members decided to curb the EC’s powers to cancel candidacy effectively making it toothless.
What is incomprehensible is the cause for their action. No political party has publicly demanded it, and no candidate even complained about it, so why unsettle a settled issue. The law ministry that vetted the proposal in 2008 to give the EC this authority did not find any anomaly or irrelevance.
Then what is the wrong with the EC’s this authority? Just because a law has not been applied is no justification for its amendment.
Being a quasi-judicial body, the EC can exert unlimited power to ensure a free and fair election. And article 91E offers the EC such power to take actions against candidates who cause damage to fairness of the polls.
The CEC and his colleagues should not forget the fate of Justice Aziz and his team who were mired into deep controversy before they were forced to quit.
The EC should try to minimise controversies instead of fanning new ones. Given the political history and tradition of mutual suspicion, the EC should not open up closed issues and thus create new divisions in the political landscape.

Source: The Daily Star


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