The Election Commission has considerable experience with conducting free and fair polls. There were elections and issues that brought discredit to it. The matter has come forth again after the High Court on May 6 stayed Gazipur city polls for three months. Various aspects of that order, capacity, and jurisdiction of the commission and the Supreme Court were discussed by participants of the Bangla Tribune’s latest Boithoki at its Dhaka offices on May 10. The roundtable was telecast live on TV channel ATN News and Bangla Tribune’s Facebook page
The Awami League Organizing Secretary Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury claimed: “Parliamentary polls and election to local government bodies are not the same. In the case of local government bodies, delimitation of electoral areas is the responsibility of the local government, and the Election Commission has nothing to do with this. But when something happens, all pin the blame on the Commission and Awami League. Our outlook has not changed as yet.”
He said all should come forward to assist the Election Commission in carrying out its duties.
“All political parties need to come forward to help the Commission in its functions. But, instead of doing so, they are trying to make it controversial,” the Awami League leader alleged.
BNP Vice-president Zainul Abedin said: “Not every sector should be politicized. Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain correctly pointed out that only two parties have jurisdiction over the demarcation of a particular electoral area. One is the local government and the other is the Election Commission. The local government can delimit an electoral area in consultation with the government. On the other hand, the Election Commission can demarcate constituencies and electoral areas every five years.
“If the local government wants to re-demarcate an electoral area, then it will have to discuss the matter with the office of the attorney general, not with the Election Commission.”
About the High Court’s stay order on the Gazipur city polls, Zainul, also president of Supreme Court Bar Association, said: “The person who filed a writ petition seeking a stay order has no legal right to do so, because he himself is a union parishad chairman (public representative). As the Supreme Court has stayed the High Court order and ordered the authorities concerned to organize the polls [by June 28], it is now clear that there has been a violation of laws.”
“In practice, the Election Commission has no powers, which has been proved in the case of Gazipur city election. The Commission has been completely negligent in connection with the polls,” the BNP leader alleged.
Speaking at the roundtable discussion, former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said: “The Election Commission becomes entirely inactive when a writ petition is filed, challenging the legality of holding an election. They don’t even bother taking any countermeasures.
“The forthcoming general elections may not be stayed [by a court order] for issues of the delimitation of constituencies. If stayed, parliamentary polls and elections to all government bodies will be hampered, just like the election to Gazipur City Corporation was stalled.
“So, it’s imperative that the Election Commission be strengthened and its capacity increased,” he stressed.
Sakhawat added that many barriers and challenges got in the way of the ninth parliamentary polls in 2008, but the EC successfully dealt with them and managed to conduct the election in a smooth and free manner.
Iqtidar Ahmad, a former registrar of the High Court, said: “As per the constitution, the Supreme Court is required to send a notice to the Election Commission before it delivers any order on electoral affairs. Whether it is a national election or a city election, demarcation of electoral boundaries is the responsibility of the Election Commission, and its decision is final.
“Both the Supreme Court and the Election Commission are constitutional bodies. And one constitutional body cannot interfere in the matters of another constitutional body. The Supreme Court shall not go beyond its jurisdiction, as enshrined in the constitution.”
He added: “The constitution is our highest legal statute, according to which the Election Commission is responsible for arranging all elections including presidential, parliamentary and local. And its powers and areas of jurisdiction are clearly mentioned in the constitution.”
It is imperative that everyone abide by what the constitution says, Iqtidar stressed.
Bangla Tribune Head of News Harun-ur-Rashid said: “There were records of fair and free polls in the country, and those elections were conducted by the Election Commission. At that time the Commission’s capacity was very poor.
“But in some cases, the Commission failed to ensure fair polls. So, politics is there, where the system that ensures fair elections sometimes fails to conduct them in a free and credible manner.”
The Gazipur polls drew much attention because the petitioner is a union parishad chairman and at the same time, he is a leader of the ruling Awami League, he said, adding that the unusual promptness the administration and police showed in response to the court’s stay order was also surprising.