EC ropes in police, admin officers to fix polling stations

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The Election Commission (EC) officials used to decide the locations of polling stations in the national election. But the EC is now formulating a new guideline to allow administrative and police officials to be involved in the selection process.

However, there is resentment among EC officials over the move as they believe it would demean the commission's authority over the process.

According to some analysts, the people have doubts about the environment for a fair and inclusive election in the country. Against such a backdrop, the new guideline would only fuel their doubts about the commitment to holding a free and fair election.

The commission passed the new guideline in a meeting on Thursday and is expected to disclose it soon in the form of a circular. The number of polling stations may be reduced in the revised rules.

According to EC sources, the commission, led by chief election commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal, exchanged views with all deputy commissioners and police superintendents (SPs) across the country in October last year. The SPs raised a proposal to be involved in the selection process of polling stations as well as to reduce the number of stations.

Arguing in favor of the proposal, they said it would make maintaining law and order easier and enable them to deploy an increased number of police personnel to ensure security at the polling stations.

The proposal prompted the EC to revise the relevant guidelines.

Under the revised policy, a five-member committee, with the upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) as the convener, will select the locations of polling stations at the upazila level. There will be another committee comprising seven members at the district level, with the deputy commissioner as its head.

The officer-in-charge (OC) of the local police station, upazila education officer, and upazila secondary education officer will be general members of the upazila level committee, while the upazila election officer will be its member secretary.

The district election officer will serve as the member secretary of the district or city-level committee, while representative of the divisional commissioner (where applicable), SP, representative of the police commissioner, district education officer, and district primary education officer will be general members.

The upazila committee will prepare a draft list of polling stations and submit it to the city or district committee. The latter will conduct spot inspections on a random basis and provide its comments. Later, the district election officer will then forward the list, along with the comments, to the EC.

The new guideline noted that education officers have a clear idea about the infrastructural condition and transportation system of educational institutions under their jurisdiction. On the other hand, the OCs have adequate knowledge about the overall security systems of educational institutions and other establishments.

Generally, DCs and UNOs play the role of chief coordinators in various government programmes. The EC believes that the work of setting up polling stations would be easier with their involvement.

Election commissioner Md Alamgir told Prothom Alo that the commission meeting cleared the way for the new guideline regarding the selection of polling stations. The committees will prepare a draft list of polling stations, and the returning officer will finalise it.

Many of the current polling stations are old or dilapidated and there are new buildings around. This is why new polling stations will be set up this time, he said, adding that the number of polling stations will also decrease in the next national polls.

Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), believes that the involvement of police and administrative officials in the selection process of polling stations may have a negative impact.

He told Prothom Alo that the EC secretariat has been made independent and empowered to appoint its own officers, so that it can carry out such works by itself.

But the new guideline raises doubts as the government, police, and administration were the main barriers to fair election in many recent cases. If the police and administration are involved in the process, the polling stations can be set up in places where there is a risk of influencing the results in favor of particular candidates, he said.

He further added that it is like asking the wolf to tend to the sheep.