Singing the same tune of civil society personalities, a majority of journalists at a discussion have advised that the Election Commission restore the provision of army deployment and provide “no vote” option to the electorate by amending the Representation of Peoples Order (RPO) in order to hold the next parliamentary polls in a free and fair manner.
The Election Commission has organised the two-day dialogue at its office in Dhaka with Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda in the chair.
On Wednesday, the first day of the dialogue, 26 out of the 37 invited journalists from print media attended the discussion organised as part of the commission’s action plan for the polls slated for early 2019. Electronic media journalists will join the discussion today.
Emerging from the dialogue, the participants told reporters that they emphasised deploying army for a participatory, inclusive election alongside the need for a political unity among the parties.
They said the Election Commission would have to go a long way to regain the people’s trust, and it would be impossible to hold a credible election if any vital parties boycott the polls.
Manzurul Ahsan Bulbul, president of a faction of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), said: “Election Commission will have to earn trust of all political parties. We urged it to take measures to make sure that all registered political parties take part in the polls.”
M Abdullah, secretary general of a BFUJ faction, said: “Awami League and BNP will have to find out the way to organise a fair election. Only a neutral government can hold a credible election. The present parliament will have to be dissolved before the election.”
Editor of the daily Bangladesh Pratidin, Noim Nizam, said: “Election Commission invited us to discuss the ways to hold a fair election...We said if the commission deems army deployment necessary to hold a fair election, then it can deploy the force alongside other law enforcement agencies.
“Also, we suggested strengthening the role of law enforcers so that they can control possible untoward situations.”
The EC must have the power to ensure the people’s voting rights and control black money during the polls. Therefore, it needs to revise electoral expenditure and ensure that the money allocated for the election is properly utilised, said Noim
“Demarcating the constituencies is essential. Miscreants and illicit flow of arms have to be controlled during the election… The commission must exercise its constitutional power to hold an election acceptable to all,” he said.
Senior journalist Amanullah Kabir suggested deploying army and ensuring a level playing field.
Shyamal Dutta, editor of the daily Bhorer Kagoj, said: “Political unity and participation of all parties have to be ensured. Atmosphere for a fair election has not been created yet. So, the commission must regain trust of the parties and hold discussion with them.”
Senior journalist Mahfuz Ullah suggested the commission appoint those officials who did not work at the field level in the last three years. He, however, did not say anything about army deployment.
Some of the participants opined, however, that the deployment of army is not necessary as long as the law enforcement agencies can control the situation.
National Press Club President Muhammad Shafiqur Rahman said: “Law enforcement agencies are enough. Army deployment is not necessary.”
The commission has to be careful about observers as some of them, according to Shafiqur, often try to influence polls on behalf of the “imperialist powers” rather than working for a credible election.
Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Daily Star, and Matiur Rahman, editor of the daily Prothom Alo, are among those who did not attend the discussion.
On July 31, at least 40 civil society personalities attended another pre-election dialogue. They, too, suggested deploying army and introducing “no vote” option for the voters.