Search Committee & the EC: Farce Continues Unfold -Tasnim Alom

National

Twelfth National Assembly election is supposed to be held under the ruling government within a period of 90 days before the expiration of the term of the Eleventh National Assembly through the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The tenth and eleventh parliamentary elections were held in 2011 in the light of the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment. Although the responsibility for conducting the National Assembly elections rests with the Election Commission, a constitutional body, past experience suggests that the Election Commission, formed under the ruling party, failed to hold free, fair and competitive elections with the impression of neutrality. It is also a matter of observation whether the ruling government and the Election Commission are constituted in a constitutional manner during the election process.

The incumbent government has been in power for more than 13 years at a time after winning a majority in the ninth parliamentary elections and gaining a majority in two parliamentary elections, namely the tenth and eleventh parliamentary elections. A review of the results of the ninth parliamentary election shows that, according to the data provided by the Election Commission, more than 86% of the voters in the history of our country have exercised their franchise. However, in the Upazila elections held just one month after this election, according to the information given by them, the turnout was only 45 percent. In the case of other countries of the world, it is seen that local elections have more votes than national elections. The then Election Commission did not provide a satisfactory explanation for the difference in turnout between the two elections within a month. Apart from that, according to the information given by the Election Commission in that election, the winning Awami League got 49 percent of the votes cast and got 230 seats. On the other hand, the main rival BNP got 33.20 percent votes and won only 30 seats. In that election, the Awami League-led grand alliance got 56.1 votes and 273 seats.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh introduced the system of non-partisan caretaker government. Under this system, the seventh and eighth parliamentary elections were held under a non-partisan caretaker government. In the first of these two elections, the Awami League and in the second, the BNP won the majority seats and formed the government. The Awami League, along with its ally Jamaat-e-Islami, boycotted the sixth parliamentary elections, demanding the introduction of a non-partisan caretaker government. Earlier, both the parties resigned from the fifth parliament in support of the demand. As a result, the sixth parliamentary election was held unilaterally in the face of boycott by Awami League and Jamaat and the BNP gained an absolute majority. The term of the sixth parliament was very short, 12 days. During this period, the majority party of this parliament, BNP, in the interest of the stability of the country, accepted the demands of the non-partisan caretaker government of Awami League and Jamaat-e-Islami and passed a law in this regard.

With the Awami League winning more than two-thirds of the seats in the ninth parliamentary elections held under an army-backed caretaker government, the party withdrew abruptly from the election-time interim caretaker government and opted for an election under a ruling party government. Later, the party abolished the non-partisan caretaker government system through the 15th amendment to the constitution and introduced the system of holding parliamentary elections under the ruling party against the wishes of the people.

Due to the abolition of non-partisan caretaker government, the tenth parliamentary elections were held unilaterally with the boycott of the then main opposition party BNP. In this election, out of 300 seats, only 153 candidates were elected unopposed. In the other 147 constituencies where polling was held, voter turnout was negligible but the loyal Election Commission disregarded all kinds of irregularities as per the wishes of the ruling party and released the results unilaterally. Considering the fact that 153 candidates were elected unopposed in the tenth parliamentary elections in the light of the provisions of the constitution, it appears that this parliament was not constituted in a constitutional manner.

Although the Tenth Parliament was not constituted in a constitutional manner, it too held the Eleventh Parliamentary Elections under them before the expiration of its term. Before the election, the ruling party assured that the polls would be held in a competitive environment. Reassured by the election Commission, the BNP, one of the main political parties in the country, participated in the election. But right before the Election Day in the dark night, the ruling party forcibly sealed the ballot papers and filled the ballot boxes. After the announcement of results in this election, the number of seats of the ruling party is 27, Jatiya Party is 22, BNP is seven and others are four. The rate of votes received from the Election Commission shows that the Awami League got 7.6 percent of the votes and the BNP got 12.33 percent. The 5th Parliamentary Election under a Chief Justice and the 7th and 8th Parliamentary Elections under the non-partisan caretaker government are in the electoral history of Bangladesh being simultaneously recognized as participatory and competitive throughout the border and beyond.

During the tenth and eleventh parliamentary elections, the political parties had a dialogue with the President. But after the nominal dialogue, president formed the Search Committee on the advice of the Prime Minister. The search committees that recommended The Eleventh and Twelfth Election Commissions are the most controversial in the electoral history of Bangladesh and their general acceptance is nowhere.

The tenth and eleventh parliamentary elections were not held in the light of the provisions of the Constitution and the law, and as they were opaque and one-sided without the participation of the main rival parties, the acceptability of these two elections faced many questions in the domestic and international arena. The book ‘Coalition Years’, written by then-President Pranab Mukherjee, states how our neighboring country, India, helped the ninth parliamentary elections and the military-backed caretaker government. Ershad himself admitted in his lifetime that the then foreign secretary of neighboring India Sujata Singh had arrived in Dhaka on a special flight immediately before the 10th parliamentary elections and had put pressure on president Ershad to participate in the elections. No one in the national and international arena can deny that the Eleventh Parliamentary Election was held at midnight.

According to the constitution, the twelfth parliament will be held on January 29, 2024 under the current government while the current government is in power. To this end, the Election Commission Appointment Act was published in the form of a gazette notification on January 29, 2022. The search committee mentioned in this law regarding the formation of the Election Commission is similar to the search committee formed before the tenth and eleventh elections.
The powers of every constitutional office bearer, including the President, are governed by the Constitution and the law. Therefore, due to the limitations of the constitutional powers of the President, the two eminent persons nominated by the President and he is in no way empowered to do so without the advice of the Prime Minister. According to the newly enacted law, the elections held under the ruling party government, including the search committee, are not acceptable to several other parties, including the BNP, the main rival of the Awami League. Earlier, these parties did not participate in the talks with the President.

The United States and its allies, the United Nations and world-renowned human rights organizations are frustrated by Bangladesh’s ailing image of democracy and human rights. Various countries and organizations have already expressed their concern to the government that the forthcoming parliamentary elections should be participatory and competitive in a democratic environment. In the previous elections, especially the tenth and eleventh parliamentary elections were full of irregularities and rigging and both the elections were held in violation of the constitution and law. As a result, the upcoming parliamentary elections are facing severe obstacles both internally and internationally while the party is in power. The only acceptable way to overcome this obstacle in the interest of development, progress, prosperity and stability of the country is to hold the twelfth parliamentary elections under an interim or caretaker government that will be acceptable to all and will fulfill the aspirations of the people of the country. If any attempt is made to move in a different direction, it will disrupt the development, progress, prosperity and stability of the country and push the country towards an unknown and uncertain future.
The writer is an independent analyst on national & international issues.