RULING Awami League leaders taking an express train in their tour of the country’s north in view of the next general elections scheduled by year-end and addressing rallies at railway stations, along the route from Kamalapur in Dhaka to Nilphamari, which prolonged the travel time, for others on board, by at least about four hours and a half is a glaring example of misuse, if not abuse, of power. The party leaders and activists are reported to have booked seats of one compartment and a half and kept the train waiting while the leaders addressed the rallies at the stations, even for half an hour at a time. Such a venture of the ruling Awami League also caused inconveniences and sufferings to other people taking the train for travel or trying to take the train at different stations. While the ruling party leaders displayed disregard for the interest of ordinary people by using a train in such a manner, the Bangladesh Railway is no less to blame for allowing the party leaders such a use of the train. It is anybody’s guess that the railway authorities would in no circumstances allow other registered political parties, even the major ones, to keep the train waiting at stations while leaders would address rallies.
A situation like this does not ensure equal space for all political parties, even for the registered ones, and affords an advantage to the ruling Awami League, especially a few months before the parliamentary elections. Yet, the Election Commission, which in addition to conducting elections registers the political parties, seeks to say that it has nothing to do as the commission is responsible for the election time beginning with the announcement of the elections schedule. Campaigners for good governance, who have urged the political parties and the Election Commission to work out a policy on using transports for election campaigns, seek to think that the commission is sidestepping its moral duty by not taking any step against the Awami League and such use of a public transport system by the party leaders. An election commissioner suggests that people should have recourse to laws if they fell inconvenienced by such a venture of the Awami League leaders but the Election Commission appears to have forgotten that as an independent constitutional organisation which registers the political parties, it has the moral responsibilities to make the parties that it registers behave, whether at the time of election or not, when such activities of political parties cause trouble to people at large and harms the proposition of equal space for all political parties.
The Election Commission is also reported to have earlier washed its hands of any such issues, concerning the ruling party making any move that harms the level playing field for political parties, by saying that it has nothing to do in such cases before the announcement of the elections schedule. This is unacceptable. While the commission must take steps against the AL venture in question, it must also work out a policy for political parties on the use of transports for election campaigns.