Bureaucrats' appointment as election officers challenged

Mizanur Rahman Khan | Update:

High CourtEngaging deputy commissioners -- mid-ranking public servants of the administration cadre -- in conducting elections in each administrative district has been legally challenged.

A Supreme Court lawyer filed a writ petition with the High Court Thursday, challenging the appointment of deputy commissioners (DCs) and also divisional commissioners as returning officers (ROs).

The hearing of the petition may be held on Sunday.

A copy of the writ petition has already been sent to the election commission secretariat.

An HC division bench of justice Syed Refaat Ahmed and justice Md Iqbal Kabir gave the approval for filing the writ.

"We've filed the writ after getting approval from the court. The writ may be heard on Sunday," petitioner Abdur Rahman told Prothom Alo.

"We didn't seek postponement of the polls. We’ve demanded replacement of divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners by district election officers as returning officers. The neutral and independent manpower is needed to hold free and fair elections."

The petitioner argues, as per the constitution, the deputy commissioners cannot conduct elections.

"It shall be the duty of all executive authorities to assist the Election Commission in the discharge of its functions," reads article 126 of the constitution.

Since the deputy commissioners work under the executive, they themselves cannot conduct the elections directly, the petitioner said adding that the deputy commissioners may assist the commission as supportive force.

The writ also argues that the article 118 (4) of the constitution will be violated if the DCs conduct elections.

Section 4 of the article 118 says, "The Election Commission shall be independent in the exercise of its functions and subject only to this Constitution and any other law."

If and when DCs are returning officers, they actually work under the public administration ministry, according to the petitioner.

The writ petition reads the returning officers will conduct elections as per section seven (4) of the Representation of People Order (RPO) 1973. "But the constitution does not support it," it added.

The election commission has its own officers to discharge duties as returning officers. But, it pointed out, none of them were appointed as returning officers. Only an upazila election officer was appointed as an assistant returning officer.

The writ seeks replacement of UNOs (upazila nirbahi officers) by upazila election officers as assistant returning officers.

US election observation organisation NDI, in a recent report, recommended appointment of the least number of government officers to hold a fair election.

When contacted, public relation director of the election commission, MM Asaduzzaman said he is not aware of the writ petition.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam

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