The first rift among the commissioners about the transfer of 33 officers of the Election Commission Secretariat was noticed in July last year
Frequent disagreement between election commissioners on various issues of holding parliamentary elections is becoming evident on the media in recent days.
An election commissioner on Friday walked out of the election preparatory meeting reportedly for not being allowed to speak on how to hold the 11th parliamentary polls in a free, fair, and inclusive manner.
A commissioner boycotted commission meetings twice, submitting notes of dissent in the last two months, while four commissioners together submitted unofficial notes to the chief election commissioner (CEC).
The first rift among the commissioners about the transfer of 33 officers of the Election Commission Secretariat was noticed in July last year.
Since then, the election commissioners’ have differed on various issues, including on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs), army deployment, and giving MPs the opportunity to campaign in city elections.
There was controversy in the commission regarding the Barisal City Corporation elections when Mahbub Talukder and other commissioners differed in their opinions.
The difference in opinion of the four commissioners with CEC KM Nurul Huda came to light in a number of incidents.
Earlier, the CEC’s comment concerning holding the national election without irregularities drew wide criticism.
Though these conflicts did not come to light immediately, Mahbub Talukdar’s first boycott of an EC meeting stirred controversy.
On August 30, Mahbub boycotted an EC meeting, issuing a note of dissent on the commission's move to use EVMs in the next national polls.
In the note, he had said: “It was necessary to discuss further with the political parties and create a consensus before making the final decision regarding the use of EVMs in the next election.”
Mahbub walked out just seven minutes into the meeting, after submitting a note of dissent. His suggestions were compiled from a series of dialogues between the commission and the 40 registered political parties, held over a span of three months from July 31 to October 2.
Mahbub had proposed determining how to use the army in the polls, holding talks with political parties for an inclusive election, finding out ways to ensure a level-playing field, increasing the Election Commission's capabilities to exercise its power, and discussing with the government, recommendations that came from earlier talks.
Mahbub said he was unable to discuss the suggestions as the three other election commissioners wrote to the CEC not to allow him to place his proposals.
He said: “I have the right to express my opinion and feelings as guaranteed by the constitution. The commission in no way can curb this right.”
The commissioner faced criticism from different corners and demands were raised for his resignation.
The ruling party demanded the resignation of Mahbub Talukder at a press conference.
The 14-Party Alliance spokesperson and Health Minister, Mohammad Nasim, said: “Mahbub Talukdar should move away from his duties since he speaks unconstitutionally from a constitutional post.”
Last month, dissatisfaction arose over the Election Commission's authority and the CEC’s single decision.
Subsequently, the four commissioners submitted to the CEC an unofficial note to know about the progress of the parliamentary elections.
What the election commissioners say
Election Commissioner Md Rafiqul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that the proposals Mahbub Talukder wanted to submit are not compatible for discussion as all the proposals are unconstitutional.
"CEC KM Nurul Huda, on October 13, read the proposals and found those unconstitutional and ineligible for discussion,” he said.
“We requested Mahbub Talukdar not to discuss the issues at a commission meeting as they were sensitive; instead, we agreed to discuss them among ourselves. But Mahbub decided to present them at the 36th meeting of the commission. Subsequently, we three commissioners gave an unofficial note to the CEC on October 14, against his proposals,” he said.
On October 15, Mahbub Talukdar asked the CEC regarding the inclusion of his proposals in the agenda of the commission meeting.
“The CEC told him that he did not include those in the agenda as those would be discussed later according to importance,” Rafiqul said.
“Mahbub, disagreeing with the CEC, submitted a note of dissent and walked out of the meeting. It seemed he was prepared to submit the dissent,” he added. “He tried to create dispute in the commission by raising accusations about detracting of freedom of speech.”
Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam said: “Mahbub Talukdar’s proposals were not constitutional. He recommended entrusting public administration and home ministries under the Election Commission when there is no scope for it as the Executive Division of the state is under the Prime Minister's Office. To bring any ministry under the commission, the constitution needs to be amended.”
She also said: “The issue of deploying the army in the election has not yet come on the agenda. I do not see the necessity of discussing it with the government. Also, a dialogue has already been held with political parties. The Election Commission does have not enough time to hold a dialogue again.”
She further said the Election Commission was carrying out its activities according to the constitution. “It is not in the commission’s jurisdiction whether the parliament will remain or not.”
Seeking anonymity, some election officials said Mahbub Talukdar would be under pressure from both the government and the Election Commission over the issue.
What former commissioners say
Former election commissioner Abu Hafiz said the issues Mahbub Talukder raised need constitutional amendment, which is tough and time consuming.
Besides, with the national elections approaching, some political parties might take the opportunity and create unrest in the country, and the Election Commissioner will not take any step that could create controversy, he said.
Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Dr M Sakhawat Hussain said: “The rift in the Election Commission is becoming wide. If it continues, the upcoming election will be affected.”
He further said Mahbub Talukder should have been given the opportunity to submit his proposal; in fact, all the commissioners should be given the opportunity to discuss their proposals.
“During our tenure, we also discussed such issues. The Election Commission could have discussed the issues, regardless of them being acceptable or not,” he said.
Mahbub Talukder left for the US on Saturday. As a result, he will not be present at the next Election Commission meeting and also cannot attend the meeting with President Abdul Hamid, which is scheduled for November 1.
When asked, Mahbub said he was visiting the US for personal reasons, not because of the prevailing situation.