The election commission (EC) led by Kazi Habibul Awal took over the charge in the last week of February. The EC organised dialogues with the registered political parties between 17 and 31 July over the next (12th) Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) elections. The parties came up with the proposals that time.

EC’s proposals

Among the proposals the EC made are increasing the EC’s jurisdiction in cancelling vote and increasing the presiding officer’s power to stop voting, said the sources at the election commission.

It also proposed to draw up provision for issuing threat to candidates’ agents or hindering them from going to the polling centres, allowing the parties until 2030 to ensure women representation at all levels of a political party, increasing scope of punishment for officials for negligence in carrying out duties, making submission of income tax certificate mandatory, providing details of vote counting to the candidates and their agents, allowing candidates to pay their defaulted bills (in electricity, water, gas etc.) until the day before submitting nomination papers and rule on submission of the amended constitution of the party to EC within 30 days.

The EC itself talked about robbers in polling booths. If the EC can’t ensure security of polling booths, lack of confidence in the EC will be bigger in the future
Rashed Khan Menon, president of Workers Party

As per the existing law the commission can take actions upon investigation if it gets any allegation. With this, the EC has proposed for authorities to postpone results if it receives any acceptable allegation prior to publishing gazette on voting results and cancel the vote if it finds evidences of irregularities in the investigation.

The existing law also says if the commission is satisfied with its investigation it can cancel the candidature of anyone. Now the EC has proposed that the candidate whose candidature has been cancelled cannot compete in the new election that would be held after cancellation order.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, election commissioner Rasheda Sultana said the EC has made proposals which are necessary. Some of the proposals put forwarded (by the political parties) during the dialogues have also been included.

The law ministry would now verify the EC’s proposals. Then it would be sent to the cabinet. After getting the cabinet’s approval it would be sent to parliament. The proposals would be part of law only if the Jatiya Sangsad accepts those.

Regarding the EC’s proposals, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) secretary Badiul Alam Majumder told Prothom Alo, “Without paying attention to important proposals like adding VVPAT with the EVM, monitoring the candidates’ election expenses, voting rights of expatriates, the EC has addressed the issues that create confusion. For example, the EC already has inherent right to cancel election. The election commission can cancel any election and hold voting anew upon investigation if it receives any allegation of irregularities and rigging. The proposals reflect that the EC has no idea of its authorities.”

No paper trail in EVM

Among the EC’s proposals, ensuring security of candidates’ agents, providing copies of results to the agents at every polling centre were made by the political parties in the dialogues. But there were some very important proposals which the EC did not take into consideration. Among them is adding paper trail to EVMs. But the EC did not take any step about it. If paper trail is added with EVMs, the provision of preserving those for one year has to be added in the RPO.

Proposals were also made on deployment of armed forces in the general elections during the dialogues. Some of the political parties proposed to give the armed forces judicial power while Gonoforum proposed to add the armed forces as law enforcement agency in its definition in the RPO. If it were done, the armed forces could have carried out duties like police in the elections. The EC, however, did not take the matter into consideration.

As per the existing laws, anyone could contest in the polls after three years of retirement from the job at government offices or defence sector. Some parties proposed to amend the section. Biplobi Workers Party proposed to make the time limit five years. Opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party (JaPa) proposed to add a provision mentioning ineligibility for three years’ period if a government official gets contractual appointment in the any government or autonomous organisation after retirement. The person could contest in the polls after three years of completing the job.

Earlier, the provision of “No” vote was added in the ballot during the army-backed caretaker government but that was later slashed. At least five parties proposed to add the provision of “No” vote during the 15-day dialogues with the election commission but the EC did not take it into consideration either.

Currently, the highest ceiling of a candidate’s expenditure in the JS election is Tk 2.5 million (25 lakh). In a bid to stop manipulation of election, Workers Party proposed to monitor the expenses all the time and calculate it and keep the oath taking postponed until the expense detail is not submitted to the EC. On the other hand, Tariqat Federation proposed to increase the ceiling up to Tk 5 million (50 lakh. But the EC has not considered any of proposals in this regard.

Ruling Awami League proposed to appoint the responsible officials of the republic instead of any officials of private firms as presiding and polling officer. However, amending the RPO is not necessary to implement this proposal. Opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party, proposed to slash the provision of cancelling the candidature for defaulting in paying utility bills. The parties also proposed to exclude the provision on garnering 1 per cent voters’ support to contest as independent candidate in the polls and arranging system for expatriates to cast their votes.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Workers Party presidenr Rashed Khan Menon said, “The election commission in its thinking follows the method it wants to apply to hold elections. As a result, candidate’s expenses in election, violence, and communalism – everything is on the rise.”

He further said the EC itself talked about robbers in polling booths. If the EC can’t ensure security of polling booths, lack of confidence in the EC will be bigger in the future.

*The report, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza