EC drops plan to replace Representation of People Order (RPO) 1972, to make amendments to the law

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, July 25, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Election Commission on Thursday revoked its decision to replace the -1972 and ordered translation of the amendment proposals into English for incorporation in the law.
  The election commissioners led by the chief election commissioner, ATM Shamsul Huda, called on the chief adviser to the caretaker government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, and took the decision to abandon the move to make a fresh law styled the Representation of People Order-2008 scrapping the RPO of 1972.

‘Instead of repealing RPO-1972, some amendments should be made and it has to be in English as the 1972 law was drafted in English. But the amendments we have proposed will be incorporated in the law’, election commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain told reporters after the meeting with the chief adviser. He said that the EC had changed its decision following demands from some quarters to do so.

The EC’s latest decision may further delay the electoral laws reforms and registration of political parties. In keeping with the electoral roadmap, all electoral reforms, including finalisation of the conditions for registration of political parties and the RPO, are to be completed by February 27.

The commission also missed its June deadline for registration of political parties for delay in finalising reforms of the electoral laws and is now extending the time up to the announcement of the election schedule which is expected in October.

On July 20, election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain had rejected the political parities’ objections to the RPO-2008, saying that there was no need for amending the proposed law. ‘There is no further scope for amending the RPO-2008. It will take us another six months to go for amending the draft RPO. The government has no scope to discuss it’, Sakhawat told reporters on that occasion.

The military-backed government on July 13 approved the draft of RPO-2008 which was prepared by EC in Bangla for over a year. But most of the political parties rejected the draft and the Awami League and its allies said they would not accept repeal of the RPO-1972 and suggested that some amendments could be made to it.

Sohul, talking to reporters at his office on Thursday afternoon, said that they had already ordered translation of the draft of RPO-2008 into English and hoped that the entire task would be completed within 10 days.

EC sources said, besides the demand from political parties to drop the proposed RPO, the ministry of law had also questioned the commission’s authority to scrap the original law [RPO-1972].

The political parties had long been asking the EC not to go for repealing RPO-1972, but the commissioners defended the move on the pretext that there would be a slew of amendments and the new law would be drafted in Bangla and an amended version of the old law would not be user-friendly.

The commission proposes 114 sections instead of 95 in the existing Representation of People Order that came into being in 1972.

The draft ordinance proposes mandatory registration of political parties with the EC. For registration, a party must have a record of winning at least one seat in any of the parliamentary elections since the country’s independence or obtaining five per cent of the total votes cast or having active units in one-third of the districts or in 100 upazilas with minimum 200 members in each.

Political parties intending to be registered would have to declare in their constitutions that they would not have front organisations of students, teachers and workers, and overseas units.

But the draft proposes that students, workers and teachers would have their rights to political activities as protected by the constitution.

To promote democracy within the parties, the draft proposes that the parties’ parliamentary boards will nominate candidates for Jatiya Sangsad elections from the panel of leaders chosen by ward or upazila level committees. The draft seeks to raise the ceiling for electoral expenditure for an individual candidate to Tk 15 lakh from Tk 5 lakh now.

Responding to a popular campaign spearheaded by various rights groups and individuals, the draft proposes introduction of ‘no vote’ system in the ballot for the first time in the country’s history. Defaulting on bank loans and rescheduling those six months before filing of nomination papers would continue to remain as disqualification as in the past. However, housing and agriculture loans have been exempted from this category.


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