THE Election commission on Sunday has unveiled its action plan for holding the next parliamentary elections between October 30, 2018 and January 28, 2019 in free and fair manner. The plan offered, as reported in New Age on Monday, a task list that included the following seven measures: examination and reform of the electoral laws, collection of suggestions on easing and updating electoral process, delimitation of the constituencies, preparation and distribution of a flawless electoral roll, installation of polling stations following rules, registration of new political parties and audit of the registered parties, and capacity building for all concerned for holding fair elections. While these tasks are foundational in a democracy, in the current political situation of Bangladesh, the road map to a participatory national election, that too a free and fair one, requires much more than what the EC appears to have decided. The EC seems unwilling to reckon with the main challenge of making two opposing political camps reach a consensus on the nature and composition of the election time government. Therefore, it would be suicidal on part of the election commission to conceive the challenge as processual, or administrative, when in actuality it is primarily political.
That the proposed measures presented in the action plan have not at all found adequate expression in the instant reactions of political parties. Except for the ruling party which has welcomed the plan, major political parties and alliances had strongly asserted that fair poll is not possible under a partisan government. And, they have cited concrete reasons behind such dissenting position on the matter. The most recent incident of police storming into the house of a political leader where other party leaders were also invited for a homely dinner is enough proof to suggest that the incumbent is anything but willing to allow spaces for the political opponents. More importantly, the incumbent has brought, argued an opposition leader, nearly all political activities of its main political opposition — the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — under unlawful surveillance and subjected them to routine police harassments that they can barely function as political party. The BNP leader has also referred to the fact that in May this year, the police conducted a sudden raid on the office of BNP chairperson, a former prime minister in search for ‘anti-state materials on charges levelled in a general diary filed by an ‘unnamed’ individual. Under such a circumstance, the EC should not expect that the incumbents of the day would allow a level playing field for its power-contenders or the oppositions would rush to join the polls, unless, the formers are successfully persuaded to restrain or the latter are credibly granted equal rights and opportunity to contest in the election. Given the context of its plan, the EC does not appear to have thought these issues seriously.
Moreover, we are completely aware that it is primarily the public, and their democratic future, that is caught between the crude partisan struggle for one party to retain power and the other to return to power. The EC must feel the responsibility to restore the people’s right to vote, which they have lost in the present spell in 2014 polls; thus contribute to the growth of democracy. It must therefore stop beating around the bush and take up the real issues to address for a democratic elections.
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