EC won't take any steps to reshuffle police, admin ahead of polls

Election commission building
File photo

The election commission (EC) would not take any steps to reshuffle the police and administration before the national election. That means, the appointments the government made in the field administration to remain the same before the election.

EC thinks any major reshuffle in police and administration may lead to chaos. However, the commission will consider taking steps or taking action if any allegation surface against any official, said a source.

Field officers, especially deputy commissioners (DCs), Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs), superintendents of police (SPs) and officers in charge (OCs) of police stations--- play an important role in the national election. Among them, DCs are serving as returning officers and UNOs as assistant returning officers making them de facto election commission at the field level.

During the previous general election in 2018, the roles of police and administration officials during, before and after the election raised a big question mark. EC did not have any control on these field level officials.

The issue was initially taken into cognizance by the current election commission. Chief election commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal declared his action plan on the upcoming election in September last year where the EC identified 14 challenges to hold a fair election. Number two of these challenges was “ensuring that the field level officials especially police and administration discharge their duties with impartiality.”

However, the EC action plan did not mention as to what the EC will do to ensure that police and administration officials perform their duties impartially. In an interview, Prothom Alo asked CEC in last July as to what EC plans do to ensure neutrality of the officials. The CEC had replied, “wait and see.” The schedule of the twelfth parliamentary election was declared on Wednesday. EC was not seen taking any steps in this regard in the last four days.

Election commissioner Md Anisur Rahman told Prothom Alo yesterday that no one has made any demand regarding any reshuffle in the field administration so far. The commission would take action if any allegation is brought against any official.

The EC in its action plans said it would try to recruit ROs and AROs from its own officials as much as possible. But in the end no own officials of the EC was recruited RO. From its own officials, the EC has recruited 56 upazila election officials as AROs. The district election officers and upazila election officers have been recruited as ‘assistant officers’ to assist the ROs. Sources said the EC officers have dissatisfaction over this recruitment.

The government in last June and July made a major reshuffle in the police and administration eying the next election. In July, new commissioners were appointed in five divisions and new DCs in 30 districts.

Awami League has been in power in the country for three terms at a stretch since 2009. The government in last June and July made a major reshuffle in the police and administration eying the next election. In July, new commissioners were appointed in five divisions and new DCs in 30 districts. Around the same time a total of 69 police officials of deputy inspector general (DIG) and SP ranks were reshuffled. The opposition parties at that time alleged that the government is reshuffling the filed level administration as its wish eying the election.

Asked about the allegation that the government wants to hold the election banking on the officers of its choice, the election commissioner Md Alamgir said it is common for opposition to bring allegations against government. But the allegations have to be specific and based on evidence.

The Representation of the People Order (RPO) states that all the executive branches of the government would assist the EC in its electoral duty. The president in consultation with the EC can issue any directives he deems necessary. And the constitution states that it would be the duty of all executive authorities to assist the EC in discharging its duty.

Stakeholders said the EC can reshuffle the police and the administration if it wants under the power vested on it by the constitution and the relevant law. Any such steps would have sent a message that the EC wants to hold an election free from the influence of the government.

However, the EC did not take any such steps in the last two general elections held under a partisan government. In 2018, the then opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front sent a letter to the EC seeking removal of EC secretary and 92 officials of police and administration. The opposition alliance’s call fell flat that time.

Mahbub Talukder in his book written before the death wrote, “As a whole, my overall assessment gives me a sense that the control of the election has been transferred to the law enforcers from the hands of the election commission.”

During the days of caretaker government, major reshuffle in the administration before the general election was a common practice.

BNP and many other parties have been waging a movement against the election that is set to be held with the partisan government in power.

On the issue, the former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain told Prothom Alo, “As the environment of the election so far indicates, what will happen even if the police and administration are reshuffled? The situation would have been different if there had been a competition.”

He also added that the EC can make any reshuffle if it wants by giving instruction to the relevant ministry.