Elections, emergency mutually exclusive

Editorial, NewAge, October 4, 2007

The election commissioners, and particularly the chief election commissioner, have stated time and again that they are committed to bringing about necessary electoral reforms to make the electoral process free and fair. The commission has also recently initiated a series of dialogues with the political parties on its proposed electoral reforms. However, up until now, we have not seen any real work by the commissioners to strengthen the Election Commission, which, we believe, requires greater power, authority and logistics to hold proper elections. A report in New Age on Wednesday says the government has decided to purchase 150 jeeps for upazila nirbahi officers this fiscal year, but no such purchase is being made for the commission officials at the district or upazila levels. This indicates to us that the government will continue to control local officials of the commission even at the time of elections and, therefore, it is the administration that will once again preside over the elections at the constituencies and not the commission. This is indeed unfortunate, as genuine reforms in the electoral process require that the commission is made more powerful than the administration with regard to elections and that the civil administration at the local levels are brought under the control of the commission officials during the elections.

We are also disappointed with the conflicting comments of the chief election commissioner about the continuation of the state of emergency. On Monday, he suggested that emergency should continue until parliamentary elections for the maintenance of law and order. On Tuesday, he said elections cannot be held under emergency and hoped that emergency would be lifted prior to the declaration of the election schedule. Even if we disregard the first statement and assume that his second statement is correct, we unfortunately cannot agree with him. We believe that the state of emergency should be lifted immediately for the restoration of fundamental rights and full political freedoms should be ensured so that the country can prepare for elections in an enabling environment. While the political parties and politicians need to be able to get their message across to the electorate without restriction, and the electorate for their part need to be able to freely discuss and debate the various programmes and policies of the political parties prior to exercising their franchise. A state of emergency only creates a restrictive environment which is not at all conducive to the holding of truly participatory general elections. Moreover, continuing with the state of emergency has dire economic implications. Emergency rule always indicates that an abnormal situation persists in a country and that the country lacks political stability. Such an image invariably discourages investment, local and foreign, and leads ultimately to a slowdown of the economy. Such a situation is entirely undesirable. As for maintenance of law and order, it is a routine and ever-present responsibility of a government and not relevant only during the time of general elections.

Lastly, we do not believe that the rule of law can ever flourish when a country is under a state of emergency. Rule of law requires that the people enjoy full freedoms and rights, as ensured by our constitution. Therefore, we hope that the chief election commissioner will reconsider his suggestion and ask the government to withdraw the state of emergency at the earliest in order for credible and meaningful general elections to be held on the one hand, and work to strengthen the commission for it to be able to preside over credible and acceptable elections on the other.


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