It is clear that the UN helped in holding the 2018 elections following the requests of the Bangladesh government. This was strategic help to make the election commission capable and efficient. The strange thing is the government, despite taking the assistance, did not permit the UN to observe the elections. Earlier, the UN helped Bangladesh in conducting the elections in 2008 and a new voter list and citizens’ NID card with photo was also made under the supervision of UNDP. They also played a role in observing the elections as well.
The UN contest cannot be overlooked. Bangladesh Gono Odhikar Parishad, a new political party, has already demanded that the next general elections be conducted under the United Nations. Gono Odhikar Parishad, a party of former DUCSU VP Nurul Haque and Reza Kibria, who was once with the Awami League and Gono Forum, said the UN as a guardian has been helping conduct free and fair elections with assistance of law enforcement agencies in the countries whose electoral system has been destroyed. Maybe they are not an important political party as yet, but are their words unjustified? What could be the objection to take extra help of the UN to hold credible elections, especially when their assistance was taken in conducting elections earlier and rights of the people were snatched behind UN's back.
Another truth that has emerged from their words is, the two election commissions formed through search committees constituted after so-called dialogues behaved in a biased manner in favour of the government
There could be no debate about the necessity to make the next elections credible, transparent and acceptable to all. This has become clearer even from the dialogues, rejected by some political parties, with the president over formation of the election commission. The political parties like the BNP, BSD and Islami Andolan, who are not taking part in the dialogues, said they have nothing new to say as the demands and recommendations they put forth in the dialogues in 2016 are yet to be fulfilled. Among the political parties, BNP is stressing on the demand of non-party caretaker government to oversee the elections.
There is no real surprise in the position of the anti-government parties. However, there is an element of surprise in what the allies of the ruling party say. For example, Samyabadi Dal of former minister Dilip Barua said, “An election commission formed without law becomes a subservient organisation of the government.” Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon said he told the president, “We want a dynamic election commission.” They also have expressed their discontent as they had to repeat the same things in the dialogues (with the president). It is clear that the allies of the ruling party also believe the election commission has been working as a subservient organisation to Awami League, the pivotal party of the ruling alliance.
Despite some errors, four election commissions (except the Aziz commission) formed between 1990 and 2006 without any search committee, could conduct acceptable elections. This was because the elections were conducted under the non-party caretaker governments
Another truth that has emerged from their words is, the two election commissions formed through search committees constituted after so-called dialogues behaved in a biased manner in favour of the government. They could not act effectively as unbiased and independent commissions. On the other hand, despite some errors four election commissions (except the Aziz commission) formed between 1990 and 2006 without any search committee, could organise acceptable elections. This was because the elections were conducted under the non-party caretaker governments. Even, Abu Hena and MA Sayeed commission, constituted respectively by the governments of Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, could organise unbiased elections independently because of the support of non-party caretaker government.
Most of those who took part in the dialogues talked in favour of enacting a law for the formation of election commission. Proposals have been made to include the provision of completing the search by people who are in constitutional posts. This cannot be claimed that the constitutional posts that have been talked about have got respite from politicisation. Even the proposal to include the leader of opposition in that committee is now bound to be controversial. It is because the current opposition in the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) compete in the last general elections as an ally of ruling Awami League and they have been acting as the opposition as per the decision of the prime minister. How would a selection or appointment be acceptable if the government hastily passes a law that will not entail opportunities to BNP, the real opposition of the government, to express its views?
While saying that there is not enough time to enact a law to form the election, law minister Anisul Huq on 2 January said, “This law should be such a law that would be acceptable to all. It is not a universal law if it is acceptable to one party.” We also want that the law is not for one party, the election commission is not for one party, the election is not for one party. It would have been better if the realisation had come a few years earlier.
Trust of all the sides is no less important than the necessity of law in constituting the election commission. The counsel of Commonwealth Electoral Networking Group on the formation and appointment of election management institution could be quoted here. They said: the institution tasked with the responsibility of election management should only be formed with people trusted by the whole society. Trust of the political parties is important for them, but for this it is not necessary for them to come from a political party. As far as possible, the process should be kept free from petty interests of political parties. A greater political consensus is required for a process free from party interests but there no sign of that as yet.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist. The article, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza