In modern election systems, much importance is attached to dialogue with stakeholders, particularly discussions and forging ties with political parties. With registration of political parties being made compulsory in 2008, an important and effective link was established between the election commission and the political parties. Relations between the election commission and the political parties need to be extremely open because it is these political parties, singularly or as an alliance, that nominate candidates for the election and form the government.

In many countries of the world, political parties assign particular individuals to maintain liaison with the election commission. Unfortunately this is sadly lacking in our country and in our politics. It is only the party or group in power who have this contact. The 11th and 12th election commissions in particular had absolutely no relations with the political parties. In fact, such relations have been on a steady decline before and after the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Despite all parties joining the 2018 election, local and international observers termed this as "flawed". The main reason for this was, according to reliable sources, in many areas the votes were cast on the night before the election

For all these reasons I feel it is imperative for the election commission to set up communications with the political parties in a sincere and committed manner. Winning the trust of the political parties and bringing them to the election will be the major challenge of the election commission. These parties must be given minimum assurance that the national parliamentary polls and the other elections will be conducted with integrity and reliability.

Since holding a free and fair election with the participation of all parties is the main challenge faced by the election commission, the dialogue should focus on how this guarantee can be delivered to the stakeholders. I had mentioned in my previous columns how the last two parliamentary elections in Bangladesh as well as other local government elections had been marred with flaws and failure, and this not only acted as a deterrent to political parties to join the polls, but kept the voters away from the polling booths too. That is the bare truth. When voters do not find answers to their questions -- "What's the point in casting my vote?" or "Will I be able to actually cast my vote?" -- they gradually lose interest in the elections. This was proven in the 2014 and 2018 national elections and the subsequent local government elections too.

Even if we forget about the 2014 elections, we will see that despite all parties joining the 2018 election, local and international observers termed this as "flawed". The main reason for this was, according to reliable sources, in many areas the votes were cast on the night before the election, though the election commission at the time refused to take this into cognizance. They did, however, indirectly admit that discrepancies emerged when counting the votes in many areas, particularly in the case of the local government elections.

I feel that the members of the present election commission have no lack of experience from their previous jobs and so they can look into why the elections had been flawed and proceed accordingly. They can at least review what the previous election commission should have done and why they had failed in three particular stages of the election -- during the campaigning, on the day of the election and after the election. If the dialogues are to be meaningful, these issues must be paid attention.

The present election commission has many advantages. Firstly, they have lessons to be learnt from two consecutive flawed and unacceptable elections. Secondly, over the past 10 years there has been a surfeit of expert analysis, recommendations and media reports on the shortcomings of these elections. These inputs will help in making decisions and addressing various bottlenecks. Thirdly, is the experience of their predecessors. Fourthly, the commission has a very qualified and hardworking workforce which can enrich the new election commission with their experience.

The process of dialogue which has commenced certainly deserves praise. After all, this is an indispensable part of modern management. But to make these dialogues meaningful, time must be taken to study the various laws and relevant issues and ensure specific agendas for the talks. If this is not done, then the dialogues will fall flat on the face as in the case of the previous election commission. This must not happen.

* M Sakhawat Hossain is an election analyst, former army officer and senior research fellow at SIPG (NSU). He may be contacted at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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