Amendment to RPO: Why delay by law ministry?

Although government policymakers claim the Election Commission (EC) is an independent entity, this is not reflected on its activities. Kazi Habibul Awal proposed that the government to make some amendments in the Representation of People’s Order after taking office.

The proposal has been pending in the Ministry of Law for three months. The EC has not received any reply from the law ministry even after sending letters twice in this regard. The Election Commission sent the second letter on 10 October asking for an update.

According to media reports, the Election Commission has urged some amendments to the Representation of the People’s Order-1972 for fair and free elections. They have proposed additions, exclusions and clerical amendments in several clauses and subsections including clauses 7, 12, 15, 25, 31, 36, 44, 84, 90, 91 of the RPO.

These include increasing the power of the EC to cancel the voting and the power of the presiding officer to stop the voting, provision of punitive action for intimidation of candidate agents or preventing them from going to the centre, punishment for preventing journalists from performing their duties, giving time till 2030 to have women representation in all levels of committees of the party.

Apart from this, increasing the scope of punishment of officials for negligence of duty, making it mandatory for candidates to submit income tax certificate, making it mandatory to provide vote tabulation statement to candidates and their agents, allowing payment of defaulted bills (electricity, water, gas etc.) till the day before submission of nomination papers, submission of amended provision of political parties to the EC within 30 days have also been mentioned.

If these amendments are implemented, the authority of the EC over the electoral system will increase, as well as it is expected to play a role in stopping irregularities and lawlessness regarding election. This will serve as a warning especially to those who create chaos in the election by intimidation at the polling stations.

Journalists are harassed by party leaders in polling stations while collecting news. It has been difficult to prove this in a criminal court. We believe it is important to protect journalists in the electoral law. The one-third female representation in political parties that was promised by 2021 has not been met yet. This proves that whoever is in the leadership of the parties have not been able to get out of the patriarchal mindset.

Payment of defaulted bills until the day before filing of nomination papers and obligation to deposit income tax should be mandatory. Those who are elected as representatives of the people must have transparency and accountability in all their financial transactions.

Why is the Ministry of Law delaying in releasing the proposal of the Election Commission? What message do they want to send to the Election Commission and the people through this? Revision of RPO is a lengthy process. The proposal will be tabled in the cabinet after getting approval from the law ministry. Awami League and its allies have about 90 per cent membership in the current parliament. No bill shall be passed without their consent.

Election commissioner Begum Rasheda Sultana's comment that 'taking away freedom is not our responsibility' is also unwarranted. In the interest of fair and free elections, they must 'take away their freedom' if necessary.