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A strong EC for a fair poll

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10th-Jan-2017       
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Mohammad Amjad Hossain  :
We understand from newspaper's report that President Abdul Hamid has been conducting discussion with political parties to arrive at a consensus on the modus operandi for conducting general elections in future in Bangladesh. This is a good news indeed.
The fact remains true that there is no democratic culture in the political parties. The parties officeholders are selected, not elected by members from grass root level. The President or Chairperson or Ameer is not elected by members of the parties. The constitution of all political parties are undemocratic in character.
The other side of the picture is that political leaders are not matured enough to conduct themselves in democratic manner. Some times they speak in vulgar language against the leader of rival political parties.
Law enacted by members of political parties are also at times undemocratic in manner. For example, Special Powers Act of 1974, which allows administration to detain a person for unspecified period on the pretext of interference with the administration or incitement, is a black law. No government as of now has dissolved this Act. All governments that came to power misused this Act (of 1974). The formation of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) by BNP in 2004 is unlawful indeed. Human Rights Watch is reported to have claimed that RAB is responsible for more than one thousand extra-judicial killings. Security forces in the country are alleged to have been politicized deeply. It is not conducive for maintaining rule of law. Remand system introduced by the government is also unlawful.
No government in Bangladesh has separated the judiciary from the executive branch according to Article 22 of the Constitution. Therefore, the judiciary is under influence, if not under  total control of the executive branch.
Many people are loudly talking about protection of the Constitution which has been amended without the presence of major opposition political parties in the Parliament by replacing the Caretaker government provision allowing holding of the general elections in January of 2014 which received stigma as "totally flawed election" from the international communities. That has been reflected in declaring 153 members uncontested winners in 300 member Parliament. According to Human Rights Watch and other non-government election monitoring agencies, there was hardly ten per cent turnout of voters because the poll was boycotted by most major political parties. Ignoring the directive of the Supreme Court for retaining the provision of Caretaker government for two more terms the government held the election to stay in power. It may be noted that the neutral caretaker administration was formed following popular uprising against military government led by Gen. Ershad by consensus of Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party on 19 November of 1990.
All political parties are required to motivate the general masses about the purpose of the government vis-a-vis economic development of the country for their survival. At the same time all political parties should maintain accounts in the registered banks and disclose its source of income to the public. Audited report of bank accounts should be disclosed to the public. All political parties should have registered members from around the country. Election manifesto of political parties should be made available to voters of the country. There should be provision for introducing photo identification card all over the country. Presentation of photo ID should be valid ID for casting vote in polling booth.  
This writer takes pain to point out certain measures recommended by foreign election monitoring observers after June of 1996 election since he was then assigned with foreign election monitoring observers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The observations are: 400 yard rule should be enforced in polling booths; identification batches should be on display of polling officers on duty, apart from posting adequate BDR, Army and Police personnel need to be posted within 400 yards to prevent intimidation by political party's thugs; all polling officers should be made aware of the presence of local and foreign monitoring observers and cooperate with them even during counting of votes. Campaign in polling area should be banned. Anybody found campaigning or threatening voters in polling area should be arrested without any fear or favour.
The President may consider strengthening Election Commission in line with India. Election Commission should not surrender to the pressures of the ruling government or the opposition parties under any circumstances. While President is discussing with leaders of political parties, European Union urged the government in forming an independent, impartial, non-partisan and highly qualified election commission to hold next general election in a fully participatory manner. These views were conveyed at a meeting of the Sub-group of the European Union and Bangladesh biennial meeting on good governance and human rights in the framework of EU-Bangladesh cooperation agreement held in Brussels on 20 December, 2016. From Bangladesh side, it was led by Secretary, Legislative and Parliamentary division of the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs. Bangladesh was also asked to ratify the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances and optional protocols to the convention on torture, rights of the child, rights of persons with disabilities, protocol to the covenant on economic, social, cultural rights, civil, political rights and second optional protocol to the International covenant on civil and political rights. Equally, election laws should be strengthened with regard to offences and corruption.
The President may consider consulting constitutional experts, apart from members of civil society as well to have balanced opinion in framing strong and powerful Election Commission.
It is expected that the President should consider all these points for strengthening the Election Commission for holding election in a free, fair and impartial manner to raise the prestige of the country in the comity of nations.

(Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat from Bangladesh, writes from Virginia, USA)

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