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Over the past 50 years, no government drew up any law about forming an election commission. As a result, the election commission will be formed as the executive pleases. After all, once the parliamentary form of government was established, the president, in effect, had no power. Article 48 (3) of the constitution states, "In the exercise of all his functions, save only that of appointing the Prime Minister pursuant to clause (3) of article 56 and the Chief Justice pursuant to clause (1) of article 95, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister."

Over the past 50 years, no government drew up any law about forming an election commission. As a result, the election commission will be formed as the executive pleases

Former president Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, in aggravation, had said that he had no other function than to offer prayers at the mausoleums. When BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) won the election in 2001, the Awami League leaders swore at both the chief advisor and the chief election commissioner MA Sayeed in such foul language, it is shameful to even recall their words. Another president, Professor B Chowdhury, wasn't even trying to establish his authority, but he had to make a humiliating exit from Bangabhaban for simply trying to establish the dignity of his office. This is the example of the democratic exercises of our power-hungry political parties.

Now let's see what the constitution has to say about the election commission law. Article 118 (1) of the constitution states, "The appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the President."

Awami League leaders may say that since so many election commissioners were constituted without any law, there will be no problem in having yet another one. The people have waited for 50 years for a law, they can wait for another 50

In a recent interview with Prothom Alo, retired judge Md Abdul Matin said, "The constitution is the highest law of the land. We earned this through the bloodshed of our independence struggle. In Article 11 of our constitution we have said, "The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedom and respect for the dignity and worth of the human persons shall be guaranteed [and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representative in administration at all levels shall be ensured]." The words, 'effective participation by the people through their elected representative in administration at all levels' were abolished by means of the fourth amendment, but at the behest of the people, was reinstated in 1991 by means of the 12th amendment... The provision, "...the appointment... shall, subject to the provisions of any law...," has been violated for the past 50 years."

Citizens are punished for violating the law. In fact, many are even punished under the Digital Security Act even if they haven't violated the law. The accused will be arrested under the non-bailable clause, punished and told to prove that he is innocent. But those in power have been violating the highest law for the past 50 years, not enacting an election commission law, yet no one is held accountable. Nor will they be in the future.

The constitution maintains that the people of the republic are the source of all power. But the role of these people is steadily diminishing in the formation of the election commission and in running the election. The situation had reached a point where the people are now scared at even the mention of an election.

CEC KM Nurul Huda has destroyed the country's election system. He first invited the Americans to come to Bangladesh to take lessons about voting. Lastly he went to Russia to observe the voting there. Who knows whether he invited them too?

When the topic of elections, the election commission, etc, arises, Awami League leaders contend that two military rulers following 15 August 1975 had destroyed people's voting rights. They had fought and struggled to establish the caretaker government, but Khaleda Zia's government destroyed that too. Even if BNP tarnished the objective of the caretaker government, that is, people's voting rights, there was nothing wrong with the objective. If BNP carries out any anti-state activities, take legal measures against them. But why will people not be allowed to vote?

Awami League has raised the question, why will anyone vote for BNP? Then again, persons of the opposite ilk may ask, why will anyone vote for Awami League? Before going into the debate of who to vote for and who not to vote for, first create an environment conducive to voting. A commission needs to be formed, but not like the Huda commission which said that it wasn't their responsibility to bring people to the polling booths. It must be an election commission that will protect the security of the votes.

CEC KM Nurul Huda has destroyed the country's election system. He first invited the Americans to come to Bangladesh to take lessons about voting. Lastly, he went to Russia to observe the voting there. Who knows whether he invited them too? After four and three quarter years in office, he now talks about political consensus. In response, there is only one thing to ask him -- where were you all this time? You and your associates have destroyed the election system that was built up through years and years of painstaking struggle. Even if you are not placed on trial by the law for this, history will not spare you.

Awami League leaders do not consider BNP as their competition. Even if we accept Awami League's contention that no one will vote for the BNP and BNP's dreams will be dashed to the ground, what is the fault of the voters? Why will they be deprived of their voting rights? Why will they not be able to vote for the candidates of their choice?

Before going into the question of whether people will vote for BNP of not, the question should be whether they will be able to vote at all. If Awami League is so confident about their development over the past 12 years, let them try to keep confidence in the people's verdict and see the outcome.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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

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