EC determined to hold polls despite several concerns

CEC Kazi Habibul Awal spoke to the newspersons following the meeting with the president on ThursdayProthom Alo

The Election Commission (EC) wants to organise the upcoming election within the stipulated time regardless of the political situation in the country. For this, they have already finished all the preparations for the declaration of the election schedule. Now, only the election schedule remains to be declared.

Although the election preparations are near ending, a participatory election is yet to be ensured. There are also questions regarding the election environment. However, the EC is not taking this into consideration. The chief election commissioner (CEC) and other commissioners met President Md Shahabuddin to keep him updated about the election preparations amid the BNP’s blockade on Thursday at noon.

Speaking to the newspersons following the meeting with the president, CEC Kazi Habibul Awal said, “The 12th parliamentary election must be held before 29 January. The election schedule will be announced very soon.”

The CEC said, “We have informed the president about our election preparations. We have told him that we are determined to perform the constitutional duties imposed on us by holding the election in time as per the constitution. We have been seeking cooperation from all political parties, the government and the people of the country in this regard.”

However, there were no discussions on the current political situation during the meeting with the president, the CEC said adding, “The president told us to carry on the constitutional and democratic practices at any cost.”

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The CEC was accompanied by election commissioners Md Ahsan Habib Khan, Rashida Sultana, Md Alamgir and Md Anisur Rahman during the visit to Bangabhaban. Apart from them EC secretary Md Jahangir Alam and joint secretary Mahabubar Rahman Sarker were also present in the meeting with the president.

The CEC and other election commissioners generally meet the president before the declaration of election schedules.

According to the constitution, the parliamentary election must be held within 90 days before the expiry of the incumbent parliament. The five-year term of the current 11th parliament will end on 29 January. As such, the upcoming election must be held within 90 days before that.

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Election schedule to be declared next week

According to EC sources, the election schedule is likely to be declared by the end of next week. The EC is planning to hold the election on any day between 6 January and 9 January. However, the date has not been fixed yet. The election schedule could be changed slightly considering the existing political situation. However, the EC has no plan to delay the election.

The EC has already finalised the voter list for the upcoming election. The draft list of the polling centres across the country has also been prepared. This will be finalised after the declaration of the election schedule. The EC has already sent most of the election equipment, including transparent ballot boxes and different sorts of seals, to the election offices at district level. The work plan after the declaration of the election schedule has also been finalised. Besides, works are under way to print the election manuals.

The election officials, including presiding and assistant presiding officers and polling agents, will be recruited and trained after the declaration of election schedule.

Already the superintendents of the police (SP) and deputy commissioners (DC) have been trained in one phase. Another phase of 2-day training sessions for the SPs and DCs will start from today Friday. A new election app will be launched on Sunday with several new facilities including online submission of the nomination papers. The work on printing the ballot papers will start following the allocation of symbols to the candidates.

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The EC is yet to make any declaration as to who are going to be the returning officers in the upcoming election. Usually the DC’s are chosen as returning officers. Many of the eminent citizens, during a meeting with the EC last, proposed to recruit returning officers from among their own officials. According to an EC source, there is a dissent within the EC over this issue. The opinion is strong in favour of making DCs returning officers. However, there is also a counter argument.

There is no specific mention in the Representation of the People Order Act of 1972 regarding who should be recruited as returning officers. However, there is a provision which states, the divisional commissioners, metropolitan police commissioners, deputy commissioners (DC) and the police supers will provide all sorts of assistance to the returning from the day of declaration of the election schedule to 15 days after election. Therefore, the spirit of the laws says that the DCs won’t be the returning officers.

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According to relevant sources, the dissent within the EC regarding the returning officers had turned into an agitation. However, the situation is under control now. The decision regarding this will be taken in the meeting to be held before the declaration of the election schedule. However, the possibility is high of making DCs returning officers like the past. Besides, the EC is also considering appointing some of their officials as the returning officers in some constituencies.

Questions over the electoral environment

The BNP and other like-minded parties are holding blockades across the country demanding the resignation of the incumbent government and an election under a non-partisan and neutral government. At the same time, a drive is ongoing to arrest the leaders and activists of the opposition.

The EC invited the 43 registered parties for discussion ahead of the election on 4 November. Some 17 of those parties, including the BNP, did not respond to that. Some of the remaining 26 parties, who took part in the discussion at the invitation of the EC, raise questions over the election environment. The BNP, de facto opposition, and other parties in their simultaneous movement have been saying that they won’t take part in any election under this government.

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Although the EC talked about some concerns over a participatory election and a conducive environment for that, they are now saying that they are determined to hold the polls within the stipulated time. The BNP has held 6 days of blockade in three phases after their strike on 29 October. The party declared a blockade for two days again on Sunday and Monday.

However, CEC Habibul Awal made it clear that there should be no confusion among the people that elections won’t be held in case of an adverse situation. He said the election would be held in time as per the constitution. He reiterated his words again following the meeting with the president.

The EC is planning to take more security measures more than the time of election in 2014 to hold the election amid BNP’s movement. The numbers of the members of the law enforcement agencies deployed at the polling centres and outside will be higher this time. The law enforcement agencies also have assured the EC that their capacity has increased a lot as compared to 2014.They have more manpower and technical abilities now.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) secretary Badiul Alam Badiul Alam Majumdar, “It is right that holding an election is the constitutional duty of the EC. However, that election must be free, fair, neutral, participatory and credible. The existing political situation, including the violence, suppression of the opposition and efforts to split the opposition parties, are not a conducive environment by any means. If the EC organises an election in this situation, it will be a violation of the constitutional duties imposed on them. It will lead the country to a further volatile situation.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu