The election commission is, for all practical purposes, fulfilling the wishes of the government now run by Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and the more the national election is nearing the more that is becoming apparent.
Election experts said various steps in recent times have called the credibility of this constitutionally independent body into question.
EC officials said during a recent meeting with the election commissioners, a delegation of ruling AL had put forth three demands – allowing MPs to carry out electioneering in city polls, no changes to electoral constituencies and further scrutiny before amending the Representation of People Order 1972.
Following the demand, the election commission amended the rules of electoral code of conduct for city corporation elections allowing the members of parliament to participate in poll campaigns.
Proposed amendments to the RPO have also been sent for further scrutiny while the commission completed the re-demarcation of the constituencies almost in line with the desires of the ruling party.
In response to AL’s objection to the returning officer for the Khulna city polls, the commission appointed a joint secretary as the coordinator for the polls and sent him to the city.
On the other hand, the commission paid no heed to opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) demand for withdrawing Khulna metropolitan police commissioner and Gazipur police superintendent.
The commission also took no steps to address several allegations raised by BNP’s Khulna mayoral candidate.
Various proposals came during commission’s stalks with stakeholders which included troop deployment in national elections, introduction of no-vote, holding general elections in a staggered manner, and voting arrangement for non-resident Bangladeshis.
But the commission took no steps to implement those proposals. It rather is waiting for government decision saying, “These are political affairs.”
These steps of the election commission have given birth to a discussion that this constitutional commission is working only to fulfil the desire of the government.
Election experts fear that the commission would have to face a big crisis of confidence before the next general elections slated to be held in the yearend if it continues to behave like this.
“EC’s steps have created doubt in the public mind. It seems that the EC is doing whatever the government is instructing it,” former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain told Prothom Alo.
“Many of its decisions are not being taken through transparent means. Decisions should be taken after consulting political parties if it wants to remain transparent or wants to bring fundamental change.
People who monitor the electoral activities said the present set up of the commission had earned praise after the elections to the Cumilla and Rangpur city corporations.
But the incidents of ballot-stuffing, capture of polling stations and intimidation of voters by ruling party activists have called into EC’s role into question.
At last in the Khulna civic polls, the election commission’s weakness was exposed largely.
EC swallowed strong criticism for its failures to have control over law enforcement, mass arrest of opposition activists, conducting raids from house to house of opposition activists, ballot stuffing after capture of polling stations during Khulna polls.
The country’s main opposition political party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had raised questions about the neutrality of the election commissioners, particularly, chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda, when the commission was reconstituted in February of 2017.
After the Khulna polls, BNP demanded resignation of the election commissioners.
“BNP has all along been saying that this commission is not neutral. Various steps of the EC have proved that that the commission does whatever the government wants it to do,” BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told Prothom Alo.
He further alleged that the election commission is working only to implement the blueprint of the government.
EC secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed, who is also a secretary of Bangladesh government run by AL, however, rejected the allegation that EC is only fulfilling government desires. “Political parties are the stakeholders. EC takes cognisance of any of their proposals.”
*This piece, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Taib Ahmed.