Election Commission becomes party to a political crime

Editorial, NewAge, November 14, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

In reiterating that the Election Commission made the right decision in inviting the controversially appointed secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, to its reforms dialogue with the political parties, the chief election commissioner, ATM Shamsul Huda, has surely mired himself in further controversy. There is little scope for debate that Hafiz’s appointment as the secretary general and Saifur Rahman’s as the acting chairman of the BNP came under dubious circumstances. That the ‘standing committee meeting’, which confirmed their appointments, was orchestrated by the military-driven interim government, was also evident, given media reports that many a committee members had been escorted to the meeting by members of the state’s intelligence agencies. One senior member of the committee even told the media that his presence at the meeting was sought under false pretences. All of this falls in line with the current administration’s agenda of political restructuring evidenced time and again by a series of actions to this effect since it took over in January this year.

Worryingly still, the Election Commission, which is supposed to be a quasi-judicial body, seems to have become complicit with the government’s agenda by rubberstamping the decision of the dubious standing committee meeting. It is a travesty not only of justice but also the promise the commission made that it would make the decision on who should represent the BNP at the dialogue upon a close scrutiny of the BNP constitution, which specifies that only the chairperson can convene a meeting of the standing committee and also appoint the party’s secretary general. While the commission may have been entitled to the benefit of doubt over its first mistake in choosing the Saifur-Hafiz faction as representative of the BNP mainstream, its attempt at justifying the decision certainly makes it guilty of committing a crime of political nature.

Moreover, the chief election commissioner has invoked the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to justify the commission’s decision. The question is: Whose necessity is the commission talking about? The ‘doctrine of necessity’ is historically associated with authoritarian rulers who would use ‘the well-being of the people’ as a convenient excuse to defend typically anti-people actions. Will it then be too far-fetched to conclude that the commission may well be serving the necessity of an unelected government that is attempting to impose a pliable leadership on a political party, replacing recalcitrant leaders who did not serve such necessities?

Our concern is that the chief election commissioner may have exposed himself and the commission to a serious political controversy, raising doubts about its neutrality, which it is constitutionally ordained to maintain. The efforts by the chief election commissioner to toe the government’s line will lead to a people’s movement demanding his resignation or removal for the sake of credible elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad as and when the state of emergency is withdrawn.


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