'The last two commissions have brought our electoral system to the brink of collapse through their nakedly biased conduct,' the statement read
As the current Election Commission's term ends in February next year, 53 eminent citizens on Saturday urged the government to begin the process to reconstitute the commission immediately, with the enactment of a law as per the constitution.
“We urge the government to take urgent steps to allow the Election Commission to take the necessary lawful steps for conducting elections independently, and without any external influence,” reads a statement signed by them and issued on Saturday.
Article 118 (1) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh states: “There shall be an Election Commission for Bangladesh consisting of the Chief Election Commissioner and not more than four Election Commissioners and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the President.”
Although the Constitution explicitly mandates the appointments to the Election Commission “subject to the provisions of any law,” no government has taken such an initiative in the last 50 years.
“Prior to the appointment of the last two Election Commissions, His Excellency the President of Bangladesh constituted, on an ad hoc basis, two Search Committees under the chairmanship of Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, the present Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh,” the statement read.
“The Rakibuddin-led commission and the Nurul Huda-led commission, constituted on the recommendations of those two ad hoc Search Committees, have brought our electoral system to the brink of collapse through their nakedly biased conduct, creating among the people widespread distrust in the Election Commission and serious concerns about fair elections,” it also said.
It furthered: "At the same time, we urge the government to start thinking of reforms so that the civil administration and the law enforcement agencies can impartially perform their duties during elections."
The proposed law must specify the qualifications of the chief election commissioner and other commissioners and include a provision for the formation of a Search Committee with non-partisan individuals acceptable to all related stakeholders.
The mandate of the Search Committee must be to prepare, following a transparent process, a panel of honest, non-partisan and reputed individuals, meeting the qualifications laid down in the law, for recommendation to the President for appointment to the Election Commission.
To ensure transparency, the proposed law must include provisions for making public the names of individuals initially being considered for appointment to the Election Commission, holding public hearings and publishing a report providing rationale for recommending the individuals to the President for appointment, added the statement.
The statement concluded by saying: “We hope that the Ministry of Law will take the initiative on an urgent basis to enact the law for reconstituting the Election Commission with appropriate initiatives. We as citizens stand ready to provide the necessary assistance by providing feedback."
The signatories include – Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, Barrister M Amir-ul Islam, educationist Dr Akbar Ali Khan, Shujan Secretary Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, economist Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Dhaka University Professor Dr Asif Nazrul, Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam, and Barrister Sara Hossain.