The Huda election commission also held dialogues with political parties and other stakeholders before the 11th parliamentary election. But it did not pay much heed to the suggestions saying that they have the jurisdiction to implement only some of those while other issues were related to political and constitutional jurisdiction.
The election held under the commission raised eyebrows in and outside the country. Even the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other opposition parties alleged that the votes were cast during the last election on the night before the election day.
The incumbent commission initiated the dialogues with stakeholders from 13 March last year after it took oath on 27 February, 2022. The EC held dialogues with educationists, eminent citizens, election experts, media personalities and registered political parties.
The EC doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do something beyond the constitution. We hope the political parties will solve political problems themselves
Nine political parties including the BNP, however, boycotted the dialogue. After the dialogue ended on 31 July, the EC published 10 observations found from the dialogue and sent a summary to the political parties as well as some ministries. Since then no initiative is visible on the issues.
The observations include bringing the polls-time government and different ministries under the jurisdiction of the EC during the election, using the power vested on the EC, using Electronic Voting Machine, deploying armed forces during the election and doing away with political cases. The EC that time said the matter of poll-time government solely depends on political decisions.
The issue of bringing some ministries under the EC during polls needs to be evaluated in light of the constitution. A split opinion came up on the use of EVMs and the matter is yet to be settled.
The EC, however, later took the decision to use EVMs in 150 constituencies claiming that most of the political parties were of the opinion in support of EVMs. In reality, only four parties were in direct support of the use of EVMs in the polls.
Muhammad Yahya Akhter, Chittagong University’s professor of political science department, took part in the EC’s dialogue on 13 March.
He told Prothom Alo that the dialogue was in fact only eyewash as the EC did not at all take into consideration the important suggestions that came up there. Most of the participants of the dialogue were against the use of EVMs but the EC unilaterally took the decision to use them in 150 constituencies.
He further said it seemed that the EC took its decision beforehand and worked as per the covert direction of the government.
There was no fixed agenda in the EC’s dialogues. It was not clear why the EC organised the dialogues
The proposals from the dialogues include adding VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) in the EVMs, inclusion of ‘no vote’, increase-decrease of electoral expenses, supervision of election expenses, bringing change in the laws regarding participation of retired government officials and bringing the armed forces within the definition of law enforcers.
To implement these proposals, RPO (Representation of People Order) had to be changed. But these issues did not get much importance in the proposal sent by the EC regarding the RPO amendment.
Most of the parties suggested some form of change in the polls-time government. The EC, however, does not have the jurisdiction to implement the proposals over the polls-time government. Meanwhile, the election experts think that the EC’s responsibility is to inform the government of these issues if it feels that a fair election is not possible without implementing these proposals.
Election commissioner Md. Ahsan Habib Khan told Prothom Alo, “The EC in writing appraised the heads of participant political parties of the suggestions that came up during the dialogues. Moreover, the suggestions of the political parties were sent to the Prime Minister's Office and relevant ministries.”
“We’ve already included some important suggestions to our plan and started implementing some, including setting up CCTV inside the polling centres and appointing the EC’s own officials as returning officers. But the EC doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do something beyond the constitution. We hope the political parties will solve political problems themselves,” he added.
Ahsan Habib Khan also said that the EC’s door is always open for any political party. The EC wholeheartedly wants to hold a free, fair, credible and acceptable election with the cooperation from the stakeholders.
The EC, however, does not have any initiative to win the confidence of opposition BNP and like-minded parties to bring them to the polls. It would only urge all political parties to take part in the polls.
EC set up CCTVs inside the polling centres in several elections. It even suspended the Gaibandha-5 by polls observing massive irregularities through the CCTV. The decision was criticised by some ruling party leaders and later they backed away from using CCTVs in the polling centres.
Former election commissioner M Shakhawat Hossain told Prothom Alo that there was no fixed agenda in the EC’s dialogues. It was not clear why the EC organised the dialogues.
M Shakhawat said he did not see any effectiveness of the dialogues held by the EC.