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Forth-coming Elections in Bangladesh: Analysis & Suggestions

Forth-coming Elections in Bangladesh: Analysis and Suggestions

by Badrul Islam
February 20, 2013

Voters are glad to learn, that the next elections in Bangladesh, is expected to be held anytime between October, 2013 and January, 2014. However, they are equally apprehensive of the unhealthy trends followed by the politicians, who do not respect the principles of democracy, nor obey, the constitution and the rule of law, as they heatedly debate to decide whether Elections will be administered by the: (1) Election Commission or (2) Caretaker Government. An Assistant Editor of the Daily Star describes it better when he writes, ”the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia are fighting each other, all guns blazing”.

It is a major disappointment for the Voters that the political parties are busy trying to “pull rabbits out of hats” and at the same time “destroying political rivals”, and in doing so make politics more intriguing and undemocratic. A statement was made in parliament that, “if Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia and her 18 party alliances does not participate in the next parliament and resigns, then Jatiyo Party Chairman, Ershad , will be brought in through by-elections and he will become the Opposition Leader”. The statement, caused disappointment not only amongst the Opposition parties but also amongst ruling party’s alliance partners. Wild speculations abounded following the visits of Jatiyo Party Chairman, Ershad and Opposition Leader Kaleda Zia’s to India. All these strongly suggest that politicians and voters, both, must develop a positive attitude to prevent confusion and chaos.

The Late Mr.Shah A.M.Kibria(former Finance Minister &AL Leader) in his article “Caretaker government : Some suggestions”, appears to have distinctly left his suggestion to his party the Awami League and its grand alliance coalition government that political parties won’t trust each other and as such both the EC and CTG should work in tandem to ensure a free and fair election. He wrote “Bangladesh is unique in the sense that the out going elected government, under law passed in 1996, actually steps down and an interim government is installed as a caretaker government. This is the result of a deep distrust of the out going elected government that manipulates the levers of power to rig the elections to ensure its own victory. The Magura by-election in 1994 convinced the Opposition parties that they cannot win if the ruling party remained in office. It would be duty of the caretaker government to ensure that the election commission is able to function without fear or favor and without interference from any quarter. In particular, it would be the duty of both the caretaker government and the election commission to see the administration remains neutral”.

The Election Commission (EC) with assistance of the previous military backed Care Taker Government (CTG) during the period 2007- 2008 managed to achieve two important things; (1) record a creditable Electoral roll with photographs and finger prints of 81 million individuals as Voters, discarding about 12.7 million fake/ghost voters; and (2) made it mandatory for political parties to be registered and successfully processed the registration of 38 out of 117 aspiring political parties. Apart from this, observations into the working system of EC reveal that EC is neither absolutely independent, nor free from political influence. Most important of all EC does not (1)have the power to monitor whether registered political parties are following the EC laws for intra-party democracy ,(2) a huge number of personnel , engaged by the EC are not under its administrative control and (3) EC has to agree to the whims of the local political parties while re-distributing the constituencies. Under the above mentioned circumstances, it is the writer’s opinion that impartial and proper logistic support to the EC can only given by the CTG.

The Caretaker government can be revived, but it needs the political will and positive attitude of political leaders. So why should the political parties give much importance for the CTG? Three reasons, stated herein, should be an eye-opener for all concerned: (1) the result of an on-line survey conducted by the Daily Star on the question “Do you agree with the Prime Minister that an environment has been created for EC to work independently and neutrally? Out of 329 Votes, Yes:(9%), NO (90%), No Comments (1%) ; (2) BRAC University Institute of Governance Studies conducted a nationwide Bangladesh Youth Survey in December 2011 among 6,575 youths(almost equal number of male and female) to get an in-depth understanding of youth and their demands. In the survey the Bangladesh Youths who are believed to have played a decisive role in the last elections (Dec, 2008), have objections to staging upcoming national elections under the ruling party. Analysts present at the primary dissemination at BRAC Centre term the finding “significant” for Bangladesh. Secretary of SHUJAN said young voters comprised one-third of total voters in the last election and they brought this mega alliance to power. Government must consider views; (3) Voters have now grown impatient with the proliferation of “self-interest” politicians who will not let go of the benefits they accrue from their position of power; their main task being to take care of Voters.

The ruling party including its grand coalition partners strongly states that since the Supreme Court has declared the Caretaker system to be illegal there is no scope to revive it. But mysteriously they are not mentioning about the two important observations that is very well tagged with the verdict; (1) the same verdict clearly states that the void system (CTG) maybe practiced for another two parliamentary terms for the sake of “safety of the state and the people” and (2) instructed the parliament to amend the constitution to ensure that former Chief Justice or any other Supreme Court Judges(Appellate Division included) are not chosen as head of heads of CTG, if the system is retained. This verdict of national importance was reached on majority vote by a panel comprising of seven members headed by the Chief Justice, and as such, this full verdict cannot be ignored.

What steps are required to form the Caretaker system? Only two steps are required:

The First step is to follow the advice of the Supreme Court, and make the amendments as stated above at the earliest.

Secondly, invite all the former Chief Advisers and Advisers of previous CTG, former Chief Election Commissioners and the Commissioners of the EC, of the period 1991 -2008. Their past experience and competence would be most valuable. A Committee from amongst them, who are able and willing, should be formed and given the responsibility of choosing the Chief Adviser and ten Advisers for the new Caretaker government. The final list can be presented to the concerned authorities for acceptance.

The EC reported two new developments: (1) that the Voters list of 2008 has been updated .The total number of Voters, for the next general elections, may cross 92 million marks, and (2) 31 new organizations have filed application for registration as political parties. The EC is already scrutinizing their details and their results will be published, hopefully, between August-November, 2013 as the present parliament is expected to be dissolved.

Under the CTG system the President‘s power are substantially enhanced. The President has control of the Ministry of Defense, the sole authority to declare a state of emergency and dismiss the Chief Adviser and other Advisers of the CTG. Both the CTG and the EC report directly to him.

Let us hope that, politicians, to earn the trust and confidence of the Voters, will concentrate to find a solution instead of resorting to hartals, protest marches and grand rallies wherein the leaders and their cohorts spill venom against each other, one promising to “oust” their rival accusing it of “selling the country” while rivals promises to “banish” the other accusing it of “conspiring against the country”.

However, fact is the government , headed by Prime Minister Sheikh , has two great advantages in its favor :( 1) A two-third majority in the parliament and (2) the President, a veteran worker of the Awami League ; he will obviously support her, all the way through. The challenge for her, on the other hand, is the legal verdict of the Supreme Court. Will she choose to be a demigod or a democrat?

*************

Badrul Islam is an independent Researcher and Freelancer. He previously worked for Foreign Chartered Coasters Administration, BIWTA and for various United Nations Agencies in Bangladesh, Somalia and Uganda.

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