Let us begin with unequivocal commendations for the ruling party for a worthy candidate. A retired district judge, this mother of two successful children, was in the judiciary for over three decades. A ruling party nominee, Kabita Khanam has become the first ever female election commissioner of Bangladesh.
It would have been rather naïve, however, to think that the search committee would go out its way to pick commissioners who had never enjoyed any favours or privileges of either the BNP or the Awami League and, at least publicly, supported neither political camp.
Indeed that would be impossible. Hence, the recourse should have been to pick responsible, conscientious individuals who have served with integrity and honesty and hope, wishfully perhaps, that they would continue to do as election commissioners.
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But the anticipated neutrality or bias of the commissioners and, thereby, the commission appears to be hinging upon which party had recommended their names. So much so, that a bona fide freedom fighter’s reputation might become questioned with his name appearing on Jamaat’s list or that a progressive secular individual’s beliefs might become suspicious if his name happened to be one suggested by Khatame Nabuwat.
Reports have it that of the election commissioners, one was BNP’s choice, the only woman was an AL recommendation, and the remaining three were apparently recommended by allies of the ruling party. Hence, it is concluded the commission will be biased to Awami League.
Unfortunately such attitude nullifies the lifelong credentials, and achievements, of the election commissioners. Unfortunately still, even the sincerest resolve of the commissioners would come to naught faced with the political will of the government. That much was quite evident from the last Election Commission’s performance.
While the Dhaka City Corporation elections remain fresh in public memory as among the worst polls in recent history, the Narayanganj city polls were one of the fairest ones and even BNP appeared to be alleging irregularities half-heartedly with much reluctance.
So, even if a background check of the election commissioners showed that they have never been in the good graces of the ruling government, that they were never part of any movement that favoured the ruling political camp, that they have never been political activists advocating for the Awami League, that they have never benefited from the discretion of the current government, it would not be enough to guarantee fair elections.
The fairness of elections is in fact on the incumbent, not on the Election Commission but on the political will of the executive authority. Bangladesh’s political culture shows that a party in power has never willingly stepped aside to allow a fair election and let the outcome hang in the balance. The current regime shows no signs of bringing about a change.