Presidential dialogue loses ground due to boycotts

Election commissionProthom Alo illustration

Already the president’s dialogue on the formation of the Election Commission (EC) has lost ground due to the boycott of political parties one after another. They say it is meaningless to take part in this dialogue as it is just eyewash and at the end of the day the government will make the final decision. Besides, the president has no scope to go beyond the advice of the prime minister.

Of the 39 political parties registered with the EC, 31 have been invited till Saturday. As of Thursday, 16 have participated. Four parties have boycotted - the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), the Islamic Movement of Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Socialist Party (BSD) and the LDP. Three more parties - BNP, JSD and Biplobi Workers Party - had announced their boycott from beforehand.

According to these parties, the president also had a dialogue in 2012 and 2016 to form the EC. None of the proposals they made in those two dialogues were taken into cognizance. Therefore, there is nothing new to say.

Most of the parties that have taken part in the dialogue so far are allies of the ruling party-led coalition or pro-government parties. Speaking to the leaders of these parties, it was learned that the president could not give them any hope. Rather, he spoke of the limitations of his power. Therefore, it is clear that the opportunity for the president to go beyond the demands of the government is very limited.

According to government sources, the president could hold a closed-door meeting with the prime minister before the next parliamentary session. The Awami League is likely to be invited to the dialogue on 14 or 15 January. At that time the president will also talk to the policymakers of the Awami League including the prime minister. Then the issue of the formation of EC will be clear.

Sources in the government and the president's office say that initially the pro-government or allies of the ruling party were invited to the dialogue. This strategy was adopted to make the dialogue effective and successful apparently as in the beginning, there was a fear that the dialogue would lose momentum if the anti-government parties were invited. It was speculated that the BNP and many anti-government parties might boycott the dialogue.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the president actually doesn’t hold any power. He will implement the will of the government, and that is the truth. The government fools the common people by applying different strategies in every election. For this reason, if there is no neutral government during the election, there will be no point in forming an EC. So first we have to decide on the issue of electing a government, he said.

Everyone wants a law to form the EC

All the parties that have so far taken part in the dialogue with the president have demanded that the EC be formed in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. As a result, pro-government and anti-government politicians of all parties feel that a kind of pressure has been put on the president for the required legislation.

There are also discussions that this time too if the EC is formed through a search committee as in 2012 and 2016, it will lose acceptability. However, some extra may be added to give it some acceptance.

The first session of the National Assembly this year will begin on 16 January. President Abdul Hamid will give the inaugural speech. According to government sources, the speech may provide guidance on the formation of the EC.

Law minister Anisul Huq told Prothom Alo, “The president is holding talks with political parties. Future steps will depend on what he decides. Now we have to wait for the decision of the president. The government will act according to the instructions from the president.”

Proposal to involve the parliament

Political sources say the Workers' Party of Bangladesh and the Ganotantri Party, two allies of the Awami League-led coalition, have proposed to involve the Jatiya Sangsad in the process if the EC is formed through a search committee. The Workers' Party has said that the search committee should be made up of constitutional post holders. They will propose four names for each post of CEC and other commissioners. The list will be sorted by the Parliamentary Working Advisory Committee and a shortlist will be sent to the president. The president will appoint the CEC and other commissioners based on that shortlist. The Ganotontri Party demanded the same. However, they proposed five names for each post instead of four.

In this regard, Workers’ Party president Rashed Khan Menon told Prothom Alo that even if the EC is formed through a search committee, the question remains as to how reasonable it would be to do it again the same way as on the previous two occasions. It would be more acceptable to include the parliament. That is why they have proposed to add the Parliamentary Working Advisory Committee.

The tenure of the current commission headed by chief election commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda is coming to an end on 14 February. There is a constitutional obligation to form a new election commission before that.

Earlier, two election commissions were formed in 2012 and 2017 through search committees. The search committee sent a shortlist after taking proposed names from political parties to the president's office. From there, the president appointed five.

However, four of the five recruits were recommended by the ruling Awami League and its allies. One was taken from the BNP’s list. There is controversy in the country and abroad about the national elections of 2014 and 2018 held under two separate commissions. In this context, the issue of forming a new EC has come to the fore again before the twelfth national election.

Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding the ongoing dialogue, Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), said the formation of the EC does not seem to have anything to do with the dialogue initiated by the president. It is a futile attempt just for show.

He further said according to the Article 48 (3) of the constitution, the president shall act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister in making decisions on everything except the appointment of the prime minister and chief justice.

It is the norm that the president has decided as per the advice of the prime minister, and he will do the same in the future, he added.

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