Under existing laws and regulations, members of parliament cannot participate in city corporation election campaigning. But the Election Commission recently decided to allow the lawmakers to partake in campaigning for the upcoming city polls.
The final proposal in this regard was made on Monday and is set to come into effect after being finalized at the commission’s meeting within the next few days.
On April 12, an Awami League delegation recommended the commission allow MPs to participate in the election campaigns for the upcoming city corporation polls in Gazipur and Khulna.
Following this recommendation, the commission held an emergency meeting on April 19. The meeting’s primary agenda was to review and make changes in the 2016 election code of conduct for the upcoming polls.
The commission has held several meetings since then to discuss the possibility of amending the electoral code of conduct.
Taking the ruling party’s recommendation into consideration, the commission reached consensus and started working on an amendment to the electoral code of conduct.
An Election Commission committee, headed by Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam, put forth a proposal to amend the code of conduct in favour of MPs in city corporation areas.
With the proposal, the committee is considering amendment of Rule 2(13) of City Corporation (election conduct), which would allow lawmakers to participate in city election campaigning by adding a new sub-section.
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Commenting on the matter, Election Commission joint secretary (in-charge), SM Asaduzzaman, said: “The commission has held a number of meetings in the context of Awami League's recommendation. The final proposal was presented at a meeting of the Law Reform Committee of the Commission on Monday.”
“But the proposal has not yet been tabled at a commission meeting. After the final proposal is tabled, it will be forwarded to the Law Ministry."
The worksheet of Monday’s commission meeting shows five provisions have been proposed in the electoral code of conduct, aiming to impose control over the activities of campaigning lawmakers.
The final proposal also includes bringing under the jurisdiction of the electoral code of conduct, social media sites such as Facebook and mobile phones.
The designation “Member of the Parliament” has been removed from the definition of government beneficiary, which currently is the most important designation under the City Corporation (Electoral code of conduct) Rule 2(13).
The speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad, ministers, chief whip, deputy speaker, leader of the opposition, deputy leader of the house, state ministers, whip, deputy ministers, and any person of similar status and mayors of the city corporations remain as government beneficiaries under the rule.
If the proposal is implemented, only members of parliament from the above mentioned category will be able to directly participate in city election campaigning; the rest will not be allowed.
Restrictions on lawmakers
The commission’s proposal for amendment of the law also plans to impose some restrictions. One of the restrictions states that only MPs will be restricted to their own city corporation areas for campaigning.
On the day of voting, a lawmaker of a particular city corporation area will not be allowed to visit polling stations outside the city limits.
A lawmaker will not be allowed to use any government facilities such as vehicles, communications technology, and government employees for campaigning. They will not be allowed to accept or disburse funds from any government, semi-government, or non-government organizations for campaign purposes.
MPs will also be prevented from using their jurisdiction on any authoritative figure before and during the polls.
The Dhaka Tribune approached Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam for more details about the proposal, but she declined to make any comments.
Meanwhile, several experts believe the election commission proposal could violate the level playing field.
Commenting on the matter, Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujon) Secretary, Badiul Alam Majumdar, pointed out: "MPs are important people, as they are in charge of the law enforcers and the administration."
“There will be an impact on the elections if lawmakers decide to participate in campaigning. This move would directly contradict the idea of a level playing field. The commission’s decision came as a surprise to me.”