CEC Nurul Huda, along with objecting to the government’s decision, also expressed hope. He assured the concerned officials of the commission that the issuance of a letter did not necessarily mean that the decision had come into effect. The matter is complicated. Perhaps Nurul Huda had imagined after all the ‘sacrifices’ he had made for the Awami League government, they would not repay him in this manner. Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar likened this decision of the government with severing a limb of the EC. He said it would be a violation of the constitution.
While Nurul Huda and Mahbub Talukdar said a lot about the voters’ list and the NID, they did not go into the background of the issue. During the tenure of CEC MA Aziz when the voters’ list was drawn up with the inclusion of 12 million (1.2 crore) fake voters, that was when it was decided to add voters’ photographs to the list. The opposition party at the time even took to the streets over the issue. But it had not been possible to prepare such a list along with photographs or even to hold the election in time, during that tenure of the BNP government.
Later during the military-backed caretaker government, an election commission was formed with ATM Shamsul Huda as CEC. This EC prepared a voters’ list along with photographs and held a general election. The present election commission may be carrying on that legacy, but has failed to present the nation with a free and fair election. It hasn’t even tried to do so.
How come they were silent when polling booths were forcefully taken over in the name of the election, when ballot boxes were snatched away, when the votes were cast on the night before the election, when people were deprived of their voting rights?
The NID card and the voters’ list with photographs are two different things. The NID is used for many purposes – from getting a passport to opening a bank account, nothing can be done without the NID. The EC is not directly related to the NID. According to the constitution, their only task is to carry out elections at a national and local level. And an accurate voters’ list is required for that purpose.
So when the big bosses at the EC make such a fuss over the letter from the prime minister’s office, then we must ask – where were you all this time? Huda and Talukdar both raised concern over the EC’s future. How come they were silent when polling booths were forcefully taken over in the name of the election, when ballot boxes were snatched away, when the votes were cast on the night before the election, when people were deprived of their voting rights? Why did they condone the election bereft of votes?
Article 118 (4) of the constitution states, “The Election Commission shall be independent in the exercise of its functions and subject only to this Constitution and any other law.” But what did we see for seven years (four years of the Rakib commission and three of the Nurul Huda commission)? We saw that though they were independent on paper, in actuality they function in subservience and obedience to the executive. So it is questionable whether they even have the right to object to the responsibility of the voters’ ID card and NID being transferred.
Nurul Huda and Mahbub Talukdar are now so concerned over the EC losing a limb. But what answer do they have for decapitating the commission over the last three years?
In other countries it is the government that prepares the citizen’s ID cards. The voters’ list is drawn up on the basis of the ID cards and birth registration. But here we prepared the voters’ list first. The NID cards were prepared on the basis of the list. The EC has been carrying out both the tasks. There is no problem with that. The problem is whether the election commission even has the right to talk about the voters’ list after it has failed to protect the people’s voting rights, after they have pushed the country’s election system to the brink of destruction.
We must thank election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar. Whether he did so unwittingly or not, he has admitted the hard truth. He said that taking away its responsibility to prepare the NID cards would be the last nail in the EC’s coffin. Coffins are never made for living beings. Coffins are for the dead. The state of KM Nurul Huda’s commission is befitting for the last nail in the coffin.
The Nurul Huda commission diminished its own independent identity by repeatedly surrendering to unlawful interventions. And that is why the government did not even feel the need to consult with it over such an important decision. It simply informed the EC of the matter by letter. The government does not consider this EC anything more than a branch of the executive. Nurul Huda and Mahbub Talukdar are now so concerned over the EC losing a limb. But what answer do they have for decapitating the commission over the last three years? A person can live without a few limbs, but not without a head. The officials of the decapitated commission are now lamenting over a limb. What a farce!
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir