A meaningful and accountable governance structure is the essence of democracy.
Within this equation exists the important principle of being able to agree to disagree. This highlights the connotative factor of tolerance and mutual understanding. The denotation in such an exercise is that all authorities concerned and political parties will try to exchange views on any issue and not discard any decision sponsored through a constitutional process.
This requires self-belief and self-confidence. Such a course of action would then exclude measures like arson or hartals aimed at intimidation rather than understanding. This process, in the current scenario, has been greatly facilitated because of digitalisation. This enables stake-holders to not only gather facts but also reveal any misuse of any process.
The last two terms of our Election Commission have been one of contrast.
The last EC, headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, was accused of compromising its honesty through their leaning towards the ruling AL. Such response from some parties headed by the BNP did not mean that they accepted all actions undertaken by the EC that had functioned previous to the last one.
It might be recalled that this EC had functioned initially within the paradigm of the so-called “caretaker government” and had been responsible for the holding of the parliamentary election in 2008 that led to the creation of the ninth parliament.
They also undertook the significant task of carefully checking the electoral roll and discarding the millions of spurious names on the voter list that had been created during the period of the previous BNP regime.
What transpired from the end of the third quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2015 was arson and other associated violence carried out in the name of democracy. It ended in the brutal killings of hundreds of innocent people. This affected the socio-economic progress of the people, trade opportunities, and the prospect of external investment in Bangladesh.
This spate of violence was carried out with the expectation that at a certain point of time, the Armed Forces would intervene, declare Martial Law and take over the reins of administration in their hands.
This did not happen.
Nevertheless, it would be pertinent to acknowledge that polling on certain occasions at different tiers, during 2015 and 2016, despite the efforts of the present government, did not meet the expectations of the participants.
As during the BNP administrations in the past, there were some abuses by local stake-holders and absence of proper use of authority on the part of the EC of then. Fortunately, the electoral dynamic improved by the end of 2016 and this was reflected during the Narayanganj mayoral poll.
It is this belief in constitutional governance that encouraged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to play the constructive and impartial role during the process of selection by the president of the new five-member EC under the new Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda.
The newly constituted EC has already proven its commitment towards ensuring free and fair elections without violence. Let us give them the cooperation, time, and opportunity that they need and not taint them with unnecessary controversy
For the first time it included a female election commissioner, Kabita Khanam, with background experience in the judiciary. It was also wise that the selection process did not overlook experience gained from earlier association with the EC and the electoral process. This was reflected in the selection of Dr Md Rafiqul Islam and Brigadier General Sahadat Hossain Chowdhury.
Both these election commissioners can now play important roles as anchors in moving the electoral process forward.
Despite serious objective efforts undertaken by the president and the Search Committee, there have been allegations that the selection process had been completed hurriedly and that suggestions given by the civil society had not been given due importance.
It is encouraging to note that, despite such initial provocation, the new CEC has responded to criticism with patience. He has sought cooperation of the media and has also pointed out that the main challenge of the EC would be to hold a fair election and that all members of the new commission will plan and work in this regard.
He has also expressed confidence that the comprehensive experience that already exists within the EC and the cooperation of political parties would facilitate the achievement of the desired objectives.
The prime minister, in the meantime, has also informed the Jatiya Sangshad that the plan to introduce an electronic voting system could be taken into consideration in the next parliamentary polls to ensure people’s voting rights and towards the holding of a free, fair and impartial election. Such a scenario would then reduce the chances of tampering.
It was unfortunate that, despite such a positive initiative, the BNP came out with their usual negative response. They have suggested that the proposal of the government to introduce e-voting was aimed at possible manipulation of the future polls.
They seem to have forgotten that this system is currently used in all developed countries. The government can take the process of good governance even further by ensuring the full independence of the EC, including its financial parameters.
The EC, from the announcement of the date of the parliamentary election schedule might also have (through a new rule of business), under its command, the question of posting and transfer of all law enforcement and executive officials of the government. This will then avert charges of politicisation and help create credibility and fairness.
The newly constituted EC has already proven its commitment towards ensuring free and fair elections without violence. Let us give them the cooperation, time, and opportunity that they need and not taint them with unnecessary controversy.
There can be no alternative to having faith in ourselves -- it is what has helped us create an independent country despite massive odds, after all.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected].