CEC digging himself a deeper hole

Editorial, NewAge, November 8, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The invocation of the infamous ‘doctrine of necessity’ by the chief election commissioner, ATM Shamsul Huda, as the basis on which the Saifur Rahman-led faction of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was invited to sit for dialogue with the Election Commission, while altogether absurd, exposes the extent to which the commission is collaborating with the military-driven interim government in political engineering and the restructuring of the polity. It is absurd because the doctrine of necessity would only apply if the commission was left with no other apparent option but to send its letter of invitation to Hafizuddin Ahmed, ‘acting’ secretary general of the Saifur-led faction. However, such a stark scenario was not even close to being the case, as Khandaker Delwar Hossain had been legally appointed as the party’s secretary general by Khaleda Zia through the powers vested in her as chairperson by the BNP constitution.

Huda’s reference to the doctrine of necessity, however, does suggest to us that an intricate plan had been set in motion by the military-driven regime in conjunction with the Election Commission to subtract Khaleda Zia from the political equation and to sideline her followers. Last week, a so-called meeting of the BNP standing committee was orchestrated at the residence of former finance minister M Saifur Rahman, even though only the chairperson can call a meeting of the party’s standing committee, according to the BNP constitution. At that gathering, Saifur was appointed acting chairperson of the party and Hafiz acting secretary general replacing Delwar, also in total disregard for the party’s constitution. This week, through sending its letter to Hafiz, the commission has given credence to what many had already suspected: The standing committee members, many of whom were reportedly accompanied to the gathering by members of intelligence agencies, were hurriedly brought together last week only so that the commission could send its letter to the ‘reformist’ faction of the BNP which is opposed to Khaleda, rather than those loyal to her leadership. The doctrine of necessity, from the point of view of the military-driven government and the Election Commission, might, therefore, refer to the whole set of events in the past week or so leading to the sending of the commission’s letter, given that the perceived attempts to liquidate the political career of Khaleda Zia and to promote alternative leadership within the BNP which will be loyal to this government appear to be on at full steam.

The invocation of the doctrine of necessity, notably, has been a common practice, from the time of the Romans emperors, by authoritarian rulers and regimes in order to explain actions and decisions that typically contradict the general will and in many cases are against the interests of the people. Most infamously, the doctrine was widely invoked by the autocratic regime of Ayub Khan in the fifties. The chief election commissioner, by referring to it in the present case, has expressly signed up to that authoritarian legacy of the doctrine. Also, by attempting to give judgement on the inner workings and processes of the BNP and by trying to define the party’s conventions, which Huda unashamedly did on Tuesday, he has done tremendous harm to his own credibility and reputation. The onus, therefore, is squarely on the Election Commission in general, and the chief election commissioner in particular, to dispel the ever-growing public suspicion that they are working neither independently of government control nor impartially to hold credible parliamentary elections.

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