Future will tell how the people will evaluate this election commission, but international analysts have termed the 2014 polls as a "failed election" and the 2018 election as "flawed"

The preceding Rakib commission had won a dubious reputation due to the one-sided election and members of parliament being elected uncontested, but the Huda commission was even more controversial due to votes being cast on the night before the election and no inquiry being made into the matter. BNP and many other parties had taken part in that election and it was an opportunity to restore people's faith in the commission. But this Huda commission, particularly its chief election commissioner, paid no heed to any allegations.

On the day that the term of the commission ended, Mahbub Talukdar quite openly admitted to the Daily Star that votes had been cast on the night before the election in 2018 in many places and this would have been revealed if the matter had been immediately investigated. Also, for the first time in Bangladesh, 42 eminent citizens of the country brought about allegations of corruption against the election commission, appealing to the president for its impeachment.

Future will tell how the people will evaluate this election commission, but international analysts have termed the 2014 polls as a "failed election" and the 2018 election as "flawed". In the meantime, over a hundred people lost their lives in violence during the seven-phase union parishad election. The election commission took no action regarding this violence, merely putting the blame on others' shoulders. Such activities and two consecutive failed elections have dashed to the ground the reputation of this important and powerful constitutional institution of the state. The commission has also lost the trust of the people and the voters.

If an election commission is subject to such controversy, this has a detrimental effect on the permanent staff of the commission. Many officials are embarrassed to say they work for the commission. Bangladesh's election commission is one of the largest in the subcontinent in terms of workforce and infrastructure, with 95 per cent of its secretariat being permanent officers and employees of the election commission.

The point of the above deliberations is to highlight the mountainous challenge to be faced by the incoming 13th election commission. The biggest challenge this election commission will face is to restore the confidence of the people and the voters in the election system, to reassure them of the commission's integrity and sincerity. This is no easy task.

Along with the people, the trust of the political parties must also be earned, particularly the opposition parties who have been opposed to the law and the formation of the election commission. One way to restore this trust is to conduct the remaining local government elections in an appropriate manner.

It is not only this last election commission, but a few preceding ones too that suffered from inner conflict. This last commission is an example of such conflict which is one of the major reasons behind its failure. It must be kept in mind that election commissions are not run on bureaucratic lines. The main functions and decisions must be taken up in a democratic system where everyone's vote has equal value. While the chief election commissioner is given responsibility for running the secretariat, he is simply the chairman at meetings with no vetoing power. So if the chief election commissioner fails to get along with the others, the commission will invariably fail.

According to our constitution and the law, the tenure of the election commission is five years. This gives it a chance to conduct all elections at least once. It is the norm to hold the national election in a single day. In around less than two years the next national election is to be held. This will require a workforce of around 1.7 million (17 lakh) and a few thousand tools. It will require training, a review of the law, amendments where necessary, and so on. Also, it will be a big challenge to reduce the political divide and to being all the parties to the election.

It is not possible to discuss all the challenges in this limited space, but the newly appointed election commission must keep in mind that their responsibility not only involves their own reputation, but also entails the duty to ensure that the next parliamentary election is not controversial or a failure because of them. The blame will fall on the election commission. The commission's lack of initiative was berated in the last two elections. The two elections were not deemed credible, nationally or internationally. The internationally renowned researcher and political scientist Pippa Norris in her book, 'Why Elections Fail', discusses in detail the failure in election management and the responsibilities involved. There has been analysis at an international level on the failure of our last two election commissions.

Finally, there is hardly any room for debate over whether our election system has collapsed. It is clear that the last two elections did nothing to brighten our political arena or to consolidate liberal democracy in Bangladesh. At this juncture where liberal democracy is shrinking globally, if our elections continue in the same manner as before, Bangladesh's development will be hit hard. And so the new election commission must identify its challenges and proceed accordingly so that it does not fail. We hope that the new election commission will be able to restore the voting rights of the people.

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

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and was rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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