THE Election Commission’s order for the law enforcement agencies not to arrest political activists without warrants in connection with elections to city authorities in Rajshahi, Sylhet and Barisal, scheduled for July 30, in apparent efforts to make elections free and fair is welcome. The order came in the wake of allegations that BNP leaders in Rajshahi have come up with, saying three ‘false’ cases were filed against 178 BNP leaders and activists and 29 of them have already been arrested after the announcement of the elections schedule. As the BNP has come up with the allegations saying that the Awami League was trying to drive BNP’s polling agents out of the election areas before the polling, as it is alleged to have happened in cases of elections to city authorities in Khulna, held on May 15 and Gazipur, held on June 26, it is the duty of the commission to earnestly look into the issue as much for the polling as for the commission itself as it needs to prove that it can hold elections in a free and fair manner. But what still remains to be seen is how far the commission could enforce the order to make the election environment free and fair.
What such an order of the Election Commission further entails is that the commission should now act on the cases in which the law enforcers arrested political activists without warrants, not only in the three cities in question but also during elections to the city authorities in Khulna and Gazipur. The commission needs to ensure that people arrested without warrants in the two metropolitan areas in May and June get out of jail unblemished. The commission should also look into other allegations such as the breach of the electoral code of conduct, which is reported to be rampant, and the harassment of opponent political candidates by ruling Awami League activists. The BNP’s mayoral candidate in Barisal has alleged that Awami League activists were creating obstacles to the election campaign of his people. Allegations of indulgence in ‘violence’ and violation of the electoral code of conduct by Awami League activists have also come up. The Awami League is alleged to have set up colourful election symbols at places, which the Election Commission has prohibited. Awami League leaders seek to say that the BNP has grown on a habit of coming up with such allegations to make elections questionable. The Election Commission, in view of this, should look into the issues to see if the BNP was so doing or the Awami League was trying to come clean by passing the blame purposely on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
The Election Commission, under the circumstances, first must ensure that its order for the law enforcers not to arrest leaders and activists without warrants is adhered to. It must also take steps for the release of political activists who have so far been arrested at election time without warrants. The commission further needs to put its foot forward in stopping the breach of the electoral code of conduct and take punitive action against the people, irrespective of their party affiliation, who have so far run into the breach of the code to make elections free and fair.
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