EC faces challenge to restore trust and protect people's right to vote

CEC Kazi Habibul Awal and other commissioners paid respect to the martyrs of the liberation war at the National Memorial in Savar on 1 March, 2022Prothom Alo

The challenge of new election commission led by Kazi Habibul Awal is to restore trust and ensure people's right to vote, the analysts have said.

Despite incidents of irregularities during the last two parliamentary elections and the recent local government polls, the EC has remained silent in exercising its power in most of the cases.

However, the EC has been empowered by the law to punish a candidate, a person or a political party in different terms, including the cancellation of candidature, if they try to influence the polls unlawfully or they are accused of being involved in irregularities.

The EC also can take actions against officials who are involved in discrepancies.

People's right to vote is now in question due to the controversial role played by the EC during the last two national polls and the recent local government elections.

People are also losing interest in voting.

Election analysts also pointed that the main challenge for the new EC is to overcome the crisis of trust.

In such a context, the country is celebrating the ‘National Voter Day’ on 2 March for the fourth time. The theme of the day this year is – “Mujib Borsher Ongikar, Rokkha Korbo Bhotadhikar.”

Election analysts said the EC has been declared as an independent entity by the constitution, so that they can protect the voting right and people can vote for the candidates of their preference.

It is the constitutional responsibility of the EC to protect people’s voting rights. Considering the political circumstances in the country, the government also has a significant role in protecting this right.

Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), said a number of voters were deprived of their voting right in the last two national elections. Due to the unilateral polls in 2014 and the vote riggings and irregularities in 2018 national polls, a large number of voters could not cast their votes.

Even if the EC cannot protect the people’s right to vote, they can at least prevent it from being snatched away
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary, SHUJAN

Constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the EC to protect people’s right to vote. However, the polls-time government also has an important role to play. In many cases, it is beyond the capacity of the EC to protect people’s voting rights if the government does not help. Even if they cannot protect the people’s right to vote, they can at least prevent it from being snatched away, he added.

The newly appointed chief election commissioner (CEC), Kazi Habibul Awal, during the first press conference after taking charge on Monday, said they would try to follow the constitution and the law to ensure that all the people can exercise their voting rights. This is their biggest challenge.

According to the sources in the EC secretariat, as of 19 January, the total number of voters in the country was 113,123,175. Of them, 57,568,807 are male and 55,553,927 are female. Besides, there are a total of 411 voters from the transgender community. Apart from this, more than 1,114,000 applications for voter registration are still pending.

According to the analysts, it is important to ensure a level playing field during the polls to ensure people’s right to vote. They are saying that this should be done by the EC.

However, the new CEC has said, it is not possible for the EC alone to ensure a level playing field. He stressed on a political consensus for a fair election. However, considering the past experience and current political circumstances, it is hard to imagine such a political consensus would be attained. It is possible to create equal opportunity for all if the EC properly can exercise its authority given by the constitution and the law.

The Representation of the People Order states that if the election commission is convinced that the EC will not be able to ensure a fair, equitable and lawful conduct of elections due to various existing malpractices, including intimidation and coercion, then the EC can call off the polls at any polling centre or the entire election at any point.

However, the last two commissions were not sincere in exercising any of these powers. The national polls of 2014 were one-sided due to the boycott of the BNP-led alliance. Candidates of the ruling Awami League won in as many as 153 constituencies unopposed. Therefore, more than half of the voters in the country didn’t have the chance to exercise their voting rights.

The polls in the remaining 147 constituents were mired in numerous allegations of irregularities including vote rigging. The EC led by Kazi Rakibuddin drew huge controversies over this election.

Although all the political parties participated in the eleventh parliamentary election in 2018 under the commission led by KM Nurul Huda, there was no level playing field.

There were several allegations including obstructing the election campaign of oppositions, filling the ballot boxes at night before the day of election, using the polling officers on duty and the law enforcement agencies in favour of the ruling party. But the EC did not consider these allegations seriously before and after the polls. The EC did not take any strong stance during the local government polls either.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, M Sakhawat Hossain, said, “The new CEC has said it is not possible for them to do everything on their own. It may be right. But it is not yet the time to make such a remark. The power of the EC as per the constitution and the law is enough to ensure people’s right to vote.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu