Ruling party Awami League leaders want army deployment in the 11th national election, but only as a strike force to contain any outbreaks of violence.
The army should not be provided with magisterial power, according to Awami League leaders.
The AL leaders’ reactions came after Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda on Sunday said he wanted army deployment during the upcoming polls.
The CEC made the comments during a discussion organized by the Election Working Group in CIRDAP auditorium.
Awami League wants troops, but only as a strike force
Talking with Dhaka Tribune, several ruling party leaders have said that their party is always in favour of deploying the military during election period, but only as a strike force.
The party does not support the idea of authorizing the troops with magisterial power.
Awami League’s second-in-command, Obaidul Quader, said the Bangladesh Constitution does not arm the Election Commission with the authority to deploy troops during the election period.
“As per the constitution, the commission (Election Commission) takes over the day-to-day activities of the law enforcement agencies during election period. Defence forces, however, remains under the control of the Defence Ministry (the prime minister is also the minister of defence). The Election Commission can ask for troop deployment, but they do not have the authority to empower them with magisterial power,” said Quader, also the Roads Transport and Bridges Minister, after an internal party meeting at Dhaka’s Institute of Engineers on Sunday afternoon,
Awami League Presidium Member Col (Retd) Faruq Khan, who was present at Sunday’s meeting in CIRDAP, said deploying the army during the polls was the Election Commission (EC)’s decision, and the government had nothing to do with it.
Later, he told the Dhaka Tribune over the phone: “We have always been in favour of army deployment during the election period as a strike force.
“Our recommendation is army members will stay in upazila headquarters under a executive magistrate’s command,” said Col Faruq. “They will only take actions if the magistrate asks them to take any initiatives.”
He alleged that BNP was conspiring against the Awami League over the army deployment issue without understanding the former’s stance on the subject.
“Some political parties are just spreading their own propaganda by creating confusion over the issue,” said Faruq.
Faruq also said that deploying the army with magisterial power would be like using an elite force as any regular law enforcement forces, which is also against the law.
Echoing similar sentiments, Awami League Executive Member Iqbal Hossain Apu, while talking to the Dhaka Tribune, said that the EC should not use the army in election times in the same manner as the police or the Ansar and VDP.
“Deploying army with magisterial power in election period will be an act of dishonor towards the elite forces,” he said.
BNP wants army to act as any other law enforcement agencies
Meanwhile, BNP welcomed the EC’s desire to deploy the military during the upcoming national polls.
But the leaders of the party have also said deployment without appropriate law enforcement power would not be accepted.
BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told the Dhaka Tribune that according to BNP’s demands, after deployment, the army should be equipped with the power to tackle any untoward situations in any centre, just like other law enforcement teams.
When asked about giving the army magisterial power, Amir Khasru said that the ruling party is trying to create confusion among people by using the term.
“We do not want army deployment with magisterial power,” he said. “We just want them to work like regular law enforcement agencies to ensure that a fair election is held, and no muscle power is used.
“The army will patrol the election centre area, rather than sit in one place,” continued the standing committee member. “They should have the power to take initiatives on their own, like making the decision to tackle any unanticipated problem. That does not mean they will work like an executive magistrate would.”
A contentious matter
The debate over deploying the military with magisterial power or as a strike force during the upcoming national election has been intensifying as the election period comes closer.
During talks with the Election Commission, a large number of journalists and civil society members spoke in favour of deploying armed forces to secure life and property during the polls.
However, nothing was said about providing them with magisterial power.
Last year, on October 18, Awami League forwarded an 11-point proposal to the EC. One of the points included the deployment of law enforcement agencies at every constitutional area after the declaration of polls schedule, and that it continue till the date declared by the EC.
The party also proposed the commission to follow the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898’s sections 129, 130 and 131 in case the need to deploy the army arises.
According to the sections, in case of any unlawful assemblies, the army can only disperse said assemblies in the absence of an executive magistrate at the scene.
On the other hand, on October 15 last year, BNP proposed that the army should be deployed with magisterial powers and the armed forces should be defined as law enforcement agencies according to the Representation of the People Order, 1972.
Nine other parties participating in the 11th national election including Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP, Bangladesh Muslim League, Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), Bangladesh Jatiya Party (Matin), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jagpa), Khelafat Majlish, and Bangladesh Muslim League-BML have all demanded army deployment with magisterial power.
Sections of this article were first published on banglatribune.com