Flouting the constitution, so far 12 election commissions were formed. The last two commissions were formed through search committees. Although the law minister did not deny the necessity of enacting a law for the formation of election commission, according to him, EC formed through search committee is not outside the legal process. It has already been announced that the next EC will also be formed through a search committee. The question is, what is the necessity of any law at all if this is within the constitutional process. At the same time, if this is not as per the constitution, then it must be said that all the election commissions formed till now have been unconstitutional.
Even if the government enacts a law for the formation of the election commission, three things could happen. One, a parliament formed by extremely controversial elections could pass an unacceptable law, taking advantage of brute majority; two, even if a fair law is enacted, the government could form a subservient commission using that law; three, the law and the commission, both could be excellent. Let us consider that the third happens. Even then, can we hope for free and fair elections?
The intellectuals who try to explain to BNP every moment why they can’t achieve fair elections through demonstrations, do not seem to have any questions about the general elections of 2014 and 2018
The history of Bangladesh indicates that no matter who is in the election commission, no fair or credible election is possible under a partisan government. A few days ago, law experts, former election commissioners and citizens who research on elections, attended a webinar organised by civic body Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN). They said it is true that there is a constitutional obligation to enact a law to form the election commission but that is not enough. In the existing situation of Bangladesh a fair and credible election is in no way possible without a nonpartisan government. Out of 11 parliamentary elections in the 50 years of Bangladesh, all of the four elections that got acceptance were held under non-party governments. This situation has not changed at all, rather, political distrust, unreliability and animosity has increased manifold.
In this context, the ruling party leaders in different forums, be it TV talk shows or discussions with opposition leaders, claim that BNP does not know how to conduct demonstrations. It seems if you want free, fair and credible elections, you have to achieve that through movements and demonstrations and, being the de facto opposition, BNP is solely responsible for this. It is rather astonishing to see that when any so-called impartial intellectuals are present at those discussions, they raise the same questions, singing the same tune as Awami League.
The intellectuals who try to explain to BNP every moment why they can’t achieve fair elections through demonstrations, do not seem to have any questions about the general elections of 2014 and 2018. They do want to know about the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the state of human rights in Bangladesh, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings and torture in custody. They do not raise questions on the repression of opposition leaders and activists and the politicisation and destruction of state institutions.
We have been commemorating the golden jubilee of independence. Fifty one years ago, the Awami League won 167 seats out of 169 seats in the elections held under a military government in 1970. That means, even under a military junta government, a fair election could take place where an East Pakistan-based political party gained a landslide victory. But power was not handed over to the party. As a result, Pakistan was split and an independent Bangladesh came into being.
There is a similar election-related crisis in Myanmar. Whichever party forms the government, constitutionally the army wields much of the power. As per the constitution, 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats and several important ministries like defence, home and border are reserved for the army.
In this context, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi secured a landslide win in the Myanmar parliament elections in November 2020. The party supported by the junta alleged rigging, but the election commission rejected these allegations. The army arrested Suu Kyi and grabbed state power. Since then the situation in Myanmar has been extremely volatile. An alternative government has been formed by the elected parliamentarians who urged the states to recognise them. Armed revolt has erupted in many parts of the country. Two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council brought allegations of war crimes against the Myanmar army and warned that the country is on the verge of all-out civil war. Surely, there were many crises in the country but it has been staring at a civil war just because of handing over the power not to the elected representatives of the people.
A fair election could be held under the Yahya government in Pakistan and junta government in Myanmar but the winners were not allowed to take the power. And, our problem is the failure to ensure to hold a fair election. If at this time of golden jubilee of independence, the opposition is blamed for its failure to generate a movement for a fair election, it becomes clear that nothing short of a wrestling match is a precondition to fair elections in this country. Such a situation pushes the country towards chaos; at least that is what history indicates.
* Rumeen Farhana is an MP of the BNP and a lawyer at the Supreme Court.
* The article, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza