Now, the BNP wants elections, national polls. The Awami League says there will be no general elections before 2019.
However, some within the ruling camp hint at a mid-term polls. No matter whether the elections are held sooner or later, the question remains: Who will conduct the elections?
Holding elections is the job of an election commission (EC), not of a political party or the regime. The current election commission headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad is due to expire on February 2017.
The country has seen till date 11 election commissions, only a few of which managed to keep themselves above controversies. Whether this is due to the commission’s office-bearers themselves or due to the ruling party remains a matter of debate. But speaking from experience, let me point out that just like any other constitutional body, there is a dire scarcity of couregeous people in the election commissions. They seem to treat the postion of the chief election commissioner or a commissioner like any other government job.
In the history of the election commissions, four elections were carried out under the caretaker governments. All the other elections were plagued by controversies. Never in any election has the losing party gracefully accepted the results. Some blamed their defeat on subtle rigging and some called it blatant fraud.
The Kazi Rakibuddin commission is widely criticised for obvious reasons. This commission was created with five members, instead of three-member composition as previously followed. The declared objective of this was to strengthen the commission. But this commission has ultimately turned out to be the weakest one in history.
Before the 2014 elections, prime minister Seikh Hasina wanted to bring the BNP into the election process. However, there was no such initiative taken by the commission itself.
Of course, a key factor for holding free and fair elections is a level-playing field for all contesting parties. The Rakibuddin commission allowed election of 153 members of parliament without any contest.
More than 6,000 elections at different tiers were held under the supervision of the current commission. And by all its actions, the Rakibuddin commission has made elections difficult — holding free and fair elections will be a daunting task in future.
The BNP leaders advocate a truly independent commission. The Awami League has spoken of making the commission stronger.
But how will this strong or independent commission be formed and function? The Rokibuddin commission was formed by a search committee, for the first time in history. Be it by a search committee or through an administrative decision, the president has to appoint a chief election commissioner and four other commissioners from among persons in this territory. Will the political leaders really want to appoint capable people at the commission and allow them to function independently?
If we want democracy, there must be elections. And if we want elections to be free and fair, the election comission must be allowed to function independently. We need to come away from all the political trickeries and the culture of obstructing voting through strikes and blockades. We need to place our faith in the judgment of the people. The government might not heed the “unconstitutional demands” of the opposition, but it should at least listen to the demands that are considered just. Is Awami League ready to do that?