CEC, set things straight

Sohrab Hassan | Update:

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul HudaIt was good reading in Prothom Alo recently about the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda taking part in a social movement against the anarchy in the transport sector. He is a life member of Paribesh Bachao Andolan (Save the Environment) Bangladesh. He took part in the human chain programme of the organisation on Saturday in front of the National Museum and called upon all to work together against illegal parking and unauthorised shops on the pavements.

Also present at the human chain programme calling for the trial of Uttam’s killing, an end to anarchy in the transport sector, and killing on the roads, were two former caretaker government advisors Sultana Kamal and Rasheda K Chowdhury, former PSC chairman Ikram Ahmed, Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan general secretary Abdul Matin, joint secretary Iqbal Habib, and others.

A special thanks goes out to CEC Nurul Huda for joining others in this demand for a halt to anarchy in the transport sector. It is the political culture of our country for persons in important positions of the state, once they retire, to talk big. They mete out all sorts of advice to the government. Before that, they never murmur a word against any wrongdoing. Yet in India, when Kiran Bedi had been at the helm of police, she built up a social movement. As the IG of police, she transformed Delhi’s Tihar jail into a prisoners’ paradise. We hope that others in important positions follow the CEC’s footsteps to stand up against the injustice and offences in society.

Speakers at the Paribesh Bachao Andolan meeting that day, focussed on two issues. One, the horrendous anarchy in the transport sector. Two, lack of accountability. Every day 15 or 16 people die in road accidents. But the people involved in road transport and their policy makers, hardly seem aware of what is going on. Rather than taking action against the reckless drivers, they advise passengers to be cautious. Undeniably the passengers and pedestrians need to be cautious, but when people are being killed every day because of reckless driving and unhealthy competition of the drivers, then such advice to the passengers gives out a wrong message.

It has a significant impact if persons in important positions join social movements against injustice and wrongdoing before they retire. In this sense, KM Nurul Huda has set a precedent. We strongly support the CEC’s demand to stop illegal parking and to clear the pavements of unauthorised shops. We hope that anarchy in the transport sector abates, that people can reach their destinations safely.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to remind him that anarchy does not prevail in the transport sector alone. Anarchy prevails everywhere, from the banking sector to imports and exports, and more. Even the constitutional office that he is in charge of is not free of anarchy. Fair elections do not always guarantee democracy, but there can be no democracy without elections. It is the first step to democracy. If things are awry there, there cannot be democracy.

The responsibilities of the election commission (EC) are detailed in Article 119 of the constitution. These include conducting the presidential and the parliamentary elections, preparing the voters’ list, demarcation of the constituencies, holding the other elections of the local government councils (union parishad, pourashava, city corporation, upazila parishad, zila parishad, and CHT council), and other related tasks. The EC is to remain independent in conducting its business and is run in accordance to the constitution and law.

The future of democracy depends on how efficiently and honestly the EC can carry out its constitutional responsibility of conducting a free, fair and peaceful election. Those in office at the EC at present may contend that the long-standing irregularities and errors cannot be addressed overnight. The people of Bangladesh are patient and are willing to give the EC time. But they also want to see the office-holders working with sincerity and commitment. KM Nurul Huda’s commission is very fortunate. No what what their past identities may have been, they have been unanimously accepted by all the political parties. Opposition BNP has said it does not want to directly voice no-confidence in this EC. All parties joined the national dialogue arranged by the EC.

Prior to the Khulna city election, the Cumilla and Rangpur city polls were significant elections held under this EC. They passed those tests fairly well, but when it came to the Khulna polls, it seems as if they just let go. Nowhere and never in the history of Bangladesh were 99 per cent votes cast in any centre. But this happened in Khulna. Many voters turned up at the voting centres to find their votes had already been cast.

EC claims there were disruptions in only three centres and they suspended voting in those three centres. But this decision failed to protect the overall environment of the election. Previously when the Dhaka North and Gazipur elections were suspended, the people felt that it is not up to the EC, but the government, whether the elections are held or not. There was a time when the election commission had authority over the local polls. Awami League and BNP both took that away and handed it over to the government. When BNP came to power the first time, it held up the upazila elections for its entire term.

The EC has given a roadmap for the coming national election. But they will never be able to conduct a fair election if the existing discrepancies, irregularities and weaknesses are not removed. The latest controversy created by the EC was giving permission for the members of parliament to campaign in the local government elections, though that has not come into effect as yet. The commission has said this will not come into effect for the Gazipur elections but for the remaining three city corporation polls. However, the contradictions within the EC are evident. According to the decision, the local MPs cannot campaign in these elections, MPs from other areas can.

CEC Nurul Huda has taken to the streets against anarchy in the transport sector. That is good. But I draw his attention and that of his colleagues to the irregularities, discrepancies and anarchy that prevail in the case of the elections. The people are looking towards them to present the nation with a free and fair election, without bias towards or against any quarter. They are constitutionally bound to do so.

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