The election commission (EC) has identified 14 challenges including the political parties' lack of confidence in the commission to organise the next parliamentary polls in a free and fair manner.

The election commission on Wednesday morning unveiled its plan of action for holding the 12th national election at the Nirbachan Bhaban in Agargaon of the capital.

BNP and the other opposition parties have expressed their no-confidence in the present EC from the very outset.

The EC itself also now feels that the trust of the political parties is a major issue.

The second matter of concern for the EC is how far the police and the administration carry out their duties neutrally. The third hindrance to a free election, as identified by the EC, the lack of confidence most parties have in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Other than the first three obstacles to a free election, the plan also mentioned the challenges of controlling muscle and money power, maintaining law and order during the election, all parties following the electoral code of conduct, candidates being able to campaign freely, preventing fake votes or polling centres being taken over or ballots being snatched away, candidates, voters and agents being able to come to the polling centres unhindered and creating the opportunity for the voters to vote according to their choice.

More challenges are: training those related to the election, deployment of an adequate number of law enforcement personnel, appointment of an adequate number of executive and judicial magistrates and having provision for local and international election observers.

The EC spoke of 19 ways to overcome these challenges.

Election experts, however, said that the plan of action offered no answers to how the EC would overcome the crisis of confidence, would create trust in the EVM, would keep the police and administration in control, would prevent cases filed for harassment during the election and ensure the safety of the agents.

According to the EC's plan, they would have to rely on the government to overcome most of the major challenges.

Chief election commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal was absent at the event to unveil the EC's plan of action. It was said he would not attend the programme as he was indisposed. In his absence, election commissioner Md Ahsan Habib Khan spoke as chief guest on the occasion.

BNP and Jatiya Party immediately rejected the EC's action plan. Speaking to journalists, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said they do not accept this election commission and so have nothing to say about its action plan.

Jatiya Party secretary general Mujibul Haque said EC's plan of action is worthless. It is not likely that an election commission that has no power can hold a fair election.

EC's five targets

The EC said that the election will be held at the end of December next year or in the first week of January 2024.

The action plan spoke of five targets of the commission. These were to hold a participatory, transparent, neutral, credible and fair election. The commission explained participatory election as an election with the active participation of all interested registered political parties.

As for 'transparent', the EC said that all their activities would be published on their website, there would be an adequate number of local and international observers and newspersons would have the scope to gather news freely. And by credible election, they meant that the results would be acceptable by all voters and the majority of the political parties.

At the outset of the action plan, the EC said that the plan was to create confidence in the political parties participating in the election, in the commission and the government. However, they did not mention any specific initiative to make the election participatory. The EC feels that the mistrust will be cleared when the plan of action is implemented.

Election commissioner Ahsan Habib Khan said, "We face many questions. We face a lot of mistrust. I feel that through our actions we have been able to move forward and earn trust."

From the beginning, the EC has been speaking about participatory polls. However, the major opposition party, BNP, has declared that it has no confidence in the EC.

Regarding this, the election commissioner Alamgir told newspersons at Wednesday's programme that there is still one year and four months left. They have drawn up this action plan and once this was implemented, all mistrust would be cleared. He said some parties do not join the election as part of their political strategy. If a party does not join, what can the EC do?

Election commissioner Rashida Sultana said no one can be forced to do anything they don't want to do.

Contradictory statements on EVM

The EC had already decided to use EVM in 150 seats at the most during the national parliamentary election. Now they are saying that confidence in the EVM must be created among the political parties. Contradictory statements have been made by the EC about how the decision was made about the EVM.

Previously CEC Kazi Habibul Awal had said that the EC had, on its own accord, decided on the use of EVM. The views of the political parties were not the main consideration in this regard.

In its action plan, the EC says of the 19 political parties that took part in the dialogue in July, 17 had been in favour of using the EVM and 12 had been against.

The commission feels that since the majority is in favour, it would not be justified to avoid using the EVM. That is why, giving importance to both sides, it has decided to use EVM in 150 constituencies. However, on the last day of the dialogue, EC had told Awami League that most of the parties do not believe in the EVM.

In the action plan, the EC has said the use of EVM will be given priority in the seats of the city corporations and district headquarters. The action plan mentioned the differences of opinion over the EVM, and presented arguments in favour of using the electronic voting machine. It said the use of biometrics eliminated the possibility of casting fake votes. No voter would be able to cast more than one vote.

The EC said that it was just a psychological perception that votes were manipulated through the EVM. The EC said it has called various experts and political parties at various times to prove their contention, but this misconception was never proved.

The EC said that when votes are cast by ballot, the centres are taken over and false votes are cast.

When asked about this apprehension in the 150 centres where the EVM would not be used, election commissioner Alamgir said the seats where the EVM will be used are safe. The law enforcement will be used stringently in the other centres. If the EC had three or four years in hand, then EVM would be used in all 300 seats. If the votes are cast by ballot in all 300 seats, the risks are certainly higher. The voting may also take place over a couple of days.

Control over police and administration

The EC feels that one of the main challenges is to ensure that the field-level officials, particularly of the police and the administration, carry out their duties neutrally.

Commissioner Alamgir said that legal action would be taken against anyone who is proven to be negligent or bias in carrying out their duties.

When asked if the EC will be able to control the police during the election or if things will be like before, Alamgir said, "The government and the police will be in our control. We have also said that the moment we feel that we are unable to carry out our work, we will immediately relinquish our responsibility."

The manner in which the opposition is being harassed and repressed from now, they will not even be able to join the election. The action plan that the EC has published without addressing the basic problems, will simply lead the country to yet another failed election.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary, SHUJAN

About cases filed to harass the opposition before the election, election commissioner Anisur Rahman said that if the EC manages to create the environment that it wants, with everyone's cooperation, then such motivated cases will not be lodged.

Seven things to be done

The EC's action plan mentioned seven things to be done to hold the coming parliamentary election. These are, redrawing the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies, drawing up an accurate voters list, setting up voting centres according to the rules, registering new political parties and scrutinising the registered parties, increasing the capacity of those involved in the election process, increased use of technology in the election and registering and renewing election observers.

Commenting on this action plan, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), Badiul Alam Majumdar, told Prothom Alo, a road map is required to determine how the EC will overcome the crisis of confidence.

The action plan also needed an outline on how and when the tasks would be carried out. They should drop the EVM immediately.

He said, the role of the police depends on how the election-time government will be. No election has been free and fair under a political government.

The manner in which the opposition is being harassed and repressed from now, they will not even be able to join the election.

The action plan that the EC has published without addressing the basic problems, will simply lead the country to yet another failed election.