The schedule is on the way, but what about the other preparations?
Secretary of the election commission secretariat, Helaluddin Ahmed, on Monday announced to the media that the schedule of the national elections would be announced on any date after 30 October. If so, preparations for the polls will officially begin from the start of November and the voting will take place any time within 21 to 45 days from then. That means the election to the 11th national parliament is not far off.
The Jatiya Sangsad or national parliament election is the largest and most important political event in national life. The question is, how far have preparations been made for these elections? Where do things stand at present? How ready is the election commission to hold a free, fair and credible election?
The election commission secretariat had announced that 80 per cent of the work has been completed on delimiting the 300 constituencies, drawing up the list of 104.1 million voters, finalising a draft list of the voting centres and other preparations. That is good news, but simply technical, logistic and managerial preparations are not enough to ensure a free and credible election. There are other important factors to be taken into consideration.
The first precondition to an election in a democratic country is to create a level playing field for all parties willing to participate in the polls. If the political parties do not have the chance to exercise their normal political rights, then they are deprived of the level playing field from the very outset. The main opponent of ruling Bangladesh Awami League, the BNP, is being deprived of constitutional rights to hold political programmes. It is facing all sorts of obstacles from the government. They have been complaining that wherever they hold political programmes in the country, their leaders are being harassed, arrested and placed behind bars.
On Monday, the BNP organised human chains all over the country in demand of proper medical treatment for the party’s imprisoned chairperson Khaleda Zia and also for her release. The police didn’t stop the programmes in Dhaka, but they caught and detained the leaders and activists. On that day, the police detained over 200 leaders and activists of the BNP from all over the country. Of them, cases were filed against 53 on various charges.
On the other hand, the ruling party has long been prepared for the election. Government funds are even being used for the purpose, it has been reported. Funds are being allocated for development work in the various constituencies of the ruling party MPs so as to lure in the voters. This certainly is not a level playing field. Business persons are being offered various facilities and concessions, and this too will have an impact on the election. Many of the business persons will be contesting in the polls too.
So far the election commission has remained mute about all the factors which are preventing the playing field from being level. While it may not be able to take tangible steps in this regard before announcing the election schedule, it could at least issue a statement to draw the government’s attention to the matter. This would indicate that the election commission is aware of these discrepancies.
The election commission has been bestowed with the responsibility of holding a free, fair, neutral and credible election. The government is committed to cooperate with the commission. However, the commission has to take measures so as to motivate the government to extend its wholehearted cooperation in this regard.