Election Commission undermines its own credibility

Editorial, NewAge, November 7, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Election Commission’s decision to send invitation for dialogue to Hafizuddin Ahmed, acting secretary general of the Saifur Rahman-led faction of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has, we believe, only eroded the credibility of the commission and mired it in a greater controversy. Through this action, the commission has only reinforced the public perception that it is working as an extension of the military-driven government, and not independent of its control. Even though the chief election commissioner promised earlier that the commission would proceed on the issue of which faction to invite for dialogue only after a close scrutiny of the party’s constitution, the commission reneged on his promise by going beyond the party’s constitution in order to recognise the Saifur-led faction as the mainstream BNP. It should be noted that, according to the BNP constitution, only the party chairperson can call a meeting of the standing committee, and only the chairperson can appoint the secretary general. As such, the event attended by members of the BNP standing committee on October 29, during which Saifur was appointed the party’s acting chairperson and Hafiz the acting secretary general, does not legally amount to a meeting of the standing committee and the decisions taken during it are not legally valid or binding upon its members.

Several other factors have contributed to casting serious doubts about the legitimacy of the meeting and the validity of the decisions taken that day. There have been reports in the media that several standing committee members were accompanied to the meeting by members of intelligence agencies, suggesting that they were brought to the meeting against their own wishes. Also, Khandaker Delwar Hossain, who was appointed by Khaleda Zia as the BNP secretary general, stated the following day that there was significant pressure on him from certain quarters to attend the meeting and that he had to go into hiding to avoid being taken there. On Monday, RA Gani, a senior member of the standing committee, said he had been invited by Saifur to his residence on October 29 for tea and he had accepted the invitation out of courtesy to a senior colleague. According to him, the meeting at Saifur’s residence did not constitute a meeting of the BNP standing committee as it had not been called in line with the party’s constitution. Given these factors, we wonder on what basis the Election Commission arrived at its decision to send the invitation to Hafiz. Had it actually followed the BNP’s constitution, the commission would have sent the letter to Delwar.

It is also regrettable that the Election Commission felt the need to comment on the manner of sacking of the former BNP secretary general, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, saying he had been deprived of ‘natural justice.’ While the commission may be a quasi-judicial body, it does not have, at this time, either the mandate or the authority to pass judgement on the internal decisions and processes of a political party. By doing so, the commission has further increased the scope for questioning its true intentions regarding the holding of parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, the decisions and actions of the commission, instead of reducing our doubts regarding its independence and impartiality, are only adding to them. Therefore, we urge the commission once again to work independently to hold proper elections, instead of becoming party to the government’s political agenda.

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