Editorial, NewAge, July 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh
That the Election Commission on July 24 revoked its decision to replace the Representation of People Order 1972 and ordered translation of the amendment proposals into English for incorporation into the law raises a few questions about the ability, if not intent, of the commission to bring about positive changes in the country’s electoral and political process in time for elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad scheduled for the third week of December. First of all, the commission went beyond its jurisdiction by initiating the process of repealing the RPO 1972 in the first place. It is not that the commission was not told about the jurisdictional trespass its plan represented. The political parties have repeatedly urged the commission to not to go for the repeal of the original law. It now appears that the law ministry also raised the question when the commission sent its package of political and electoral reforms proposals for vetting. Still, the commission persisted with its plan and reasoned that there would be a number of amendments and the new law would be drafted in Bangla, and that an amended version of the old law would not be user friendly. Eventually, it had the reforms proposal approved by the council of advisers on July 13.
The commission’s obstinacy, if not audacity, has now given rise to the prospect of a further delay in the electoral laws reforms and registration of political parties. All electoral reforms, including the finalisation of the conditions for registration of the political parties and the RPO, should have been completed by February 27 according to its own electoral roadmap. The commission has already missed the June deadline for registration of the political parties and extended it up to the announcement of the election schedule, which is expected to come in October. One may very well suspect that the delay has been deliberate and part of some hidden agenda.
However it may be, now that it has been somewhat forced to revoke its decision to repeal the RPO 1972 and incorporate its proposals into the law as amendments, it could easily have struck out certain proposals that are viewed as anti-constitution, anti-people and anti-progress. For example, as we have pointed out in a previous editorial comment, while the proposed criteria for recognition and registration of the political parties runs counter to the constitution, the proposal for ban on political ideals that contradict the country’s constitution is essentially an approach to stifle diversity of ideas and political thought. Overall, the commission’s handling of the electoral and political reforms, from the very beginning, has been lackadaisical, if not chaotic altogether, raising questions about the very content and intent of its reforms plan. The commission is already widely perceived to have been toeing the lines of a government whose constitutional validity is eminently questionable. Its refusal to be inclusive in the process of reforming the electoral and political process could only deepen such a perception.