Archive for the ‘Election Commission’ Category

Emergency not conducive to proper electoral atmosphere

October 13, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, October 13, 2008

The next general elections, slated for December 18, cannot be held under the state of emergency as such a situation is not conducive to a congenial voting atmosphere owing to curtailment of some fundamental rights of the people, said Odhikar on Sunday.

Despite repeated assurances by the military-controlled interim government, the human rights body felt that doubts still persist about the holding of elections since the state of emergency has lost its justification, legal and otherwise, and continues to pose a serious threat to basic human rights.

Odhikar demanded immediate lifting of emergency in its monitoring report on the state of human rights in the 21 months under the state of emergency.

‘The Parliament that will be elected through free and fair elections should not extend blanket immunity to this government,’ said Odhikar.

Reiterating its criticism of the current state of emergency, the human rights watchdog said that emergency has suspended basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution and has essentially encroached on the space that the people need to make choices through election.

‘Odhikar strongly believes that the state of emergency should be lifted in its entirety and in the whole territory of Bangladesh in order to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections,’ said the report.

‘Odhikar also maintains that human rights are indivisible and it is neither possible nor permissible to restore some rights while others are still being denied. Human rights should be upheld and respected under all circumstances. Therefore, attempts to hold a general election under the emergency cannot offer a congenial atmosphere for a credible polls and transition to an elected government,’ said the rights body.

Stressing the need for the formation of a government through electoral democracy, Odhikar said that a free, fair and participatory popular election was the only legitimate way to fulfil this goal.

‘Odhikar believes that only through a widely participatory, credible general election can the nation make a transition to representative governance from the current extra-constitutional administration,’ said the watchdog.

It demanded that nothing should be done by the government to jeopardise the holding of the general elections on the set date.

‘Odhikar feels it is time to think about the post-election situation too, and this gives rise to the question of the ratification by the next elected Parliament of the deeds of the present regime that, instead of acting as a caretaker government, exceeded its constitutional authority and acted as a regular government.’ said the human rights body.

It said that the question of ratification or legalisation of the activities of the government would arise soon after the election is held.

‘In this general election the electorate will vote for an elected government, but not necessarily to ratify or otherwise legitimise the actions and measures of the current government,’ Odhikar maintained.

The rights watchdog said that there has not been any improvement in the safeguarding of the people’s basic rights and the formation of the National Human Rights Commission would not make any difference to this end as it will be manned by persons chosen by the incumbents and will be political appointees and bureaucrats.

‘It is highly paradoxical that the government has proceeded to establish the National Human Rights Commission while keeping all basic rights suspended and denied!’ quipped Odhikar.

The report also stated that the Right to Information Ordinance, approved by the interim Cabinet, would not ensure the people’s right to know.


More reasons to doubt freeness, fairness of local govt polls than not

August 6, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 6, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The claim of the chief election commissioner and a couple of advisers to the military-controlled interim government that the elections on Monday to four city corporations and nine municipal corporations were ‘free’ and ‘fair’ and provided justification for holding the parliamentary polls under a state of emergency is only predictable. Their claim only lends credence to the suspicion that the incumbents went ahead with the local government elections to bolster their arguments that withdrawal of emergency is not a precondition for free and fair parliamentary polls. What was rather disappointing, albeit not quite surprising, was the overzealousness of a section of the so-called civil society, including some media organisations, to project the ‘freeness’ and ‘fairness’ of the city corporation and municipality polls. Such overzealousness may have been prompted by the absence of violence and the reasonable turnout of voters, but was, we are afraid, misplaced.

There are, we believe, more reasons than one to believe the elections were neither free nor fair. First, election and the state of emergency are mutually exclusive; while the former is a manifestation of free thinking and freedom of expression, the latter officially restricts the people’s fundamental rights to freedom of thought and expression. The state of emergency, restrictive and repressive as it is, also generates a pervasive sense of fear. In all likelihood, such fears have played on the people’s mind, at least at the subconscious level, when they exercised their right to adult franchise.
   Second, the fairness of the elections is also questionable. In the absence of one of the two major political camps, the city corporation and municipality elections degenerated into virtually a one-horse race and were hardly representative in nature. Participation by all competing political camps not only enhances the credibility of the elections but also guarantees fairness of the electoral process. Besides, the Election Commission lamented, three weeks or so prior to the elections, that its endeavours to free the elections from all sorts of irregularities and influence might go in vain because of shady activities of some field-level officials of the civil administration.

Third, while the commission and the government have used the ‘clean chit’ given by the elections observers to substantiate their claim that the city corporation and municipal elections were ‘free’ and ‘fair’, it has emerged that the election monitoring exercise was itself questionable. There are allegations that credible election monitors were given a cold shoulder by the field-level election officials and, in many cases, not afforded adequate access to the polling centres.
   Added to these, lengthy process of checking, flawed electoral roll and confusion over the use of national identity cards tested the voters’ patience at some places, indicating that the commission’s preparation, in terms of personnel and logistics, may not have been foolproof. 

Overall, there are very few reasons for the Election Commission and the government to think that Monday’s elections were ‘free’ and ‘fair’ or that the elections were conducted efficiently. There are even fewer reasons for them to think that the city corporation and municipal polls provided a justification for the general elections to be held under a state of emergency. Of course, they may try to hold the general elections with the state of emergency in force; however, such elections would be far from credible and, most importantly, may not facilitate the democratic transition the people aspire for.

Election Commission continues 
with its dithering ways

July 27, 2008

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.

Election Commission misses deadlines for three roadmap tasks

July 6, 2008

Khadimul Islam, NewAge, July 2, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Election Commission missed its deadline of at least three tasks, as laid out in the electoral roadmap, with June passing by and is now extending time to complete the tasks.
 The tasks scheduled to be completed by June 30 are delimitation of the parliamentary constituencies, completion of field-level tasks of voters’ registration and the registration of political parties.

Election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain, when his attention was called to the deadline, Tuesday evening told New Age, ‘I have said it earlier that we have failed to meet the deadline of party registration and the issue of delimitation in now in final stages.’
 The commission missed its June deadline for the registration of political parties for delay in finalising reforms of the electoral law and is now extending the time up to the announcement of the election schedule, which is likely in October.

In keeping with the electoral roadmap, all electoral reforms, including finalisation of the conditions for registration of political parties, were to be completed by February 27. The commission also set a June 30 deadline for the registration of the parties, which were given three months, April–June, to get registered. But till date there is no sign of finalising the electoral reforms, setting the conditions for registration.

Election commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain in June hoped the draft of the laws on mandatory registration of political parties with the commission to contest polls would be promulgated in July.
 ‘They [political parties] will be given three months, if required four months, and even up to the time before the announcement of the election schedule to get registered with the commission,’ M Sakhawat Hussain told reporters in his office in June.

He said political parties would be given adequate time and scope for discussions and meetings to change their constitutions in compliance with the party registration laws.
 In keeping with the electoral roadmap, the commission was supposed to complete the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies through gazette notification by end of June. But the commission on Monday wrapped up the countrywide hearing in disputes over delimitation by taking up objections to the demarcation of 95 constituencies.

M Sakhawat Hossain on Sunday said they would not take more than seven days after the ongoing hearing in objections to the commission’s delimitation plan.
   According to the roadmap, field-level task of voters’ registration was to be completed by June 30, but it missed the deadline and set July 9 for its completion. According to a progress report, till June 28, a total of 8,03,81,882 crore voters were registered.

Time for govt, Election Commission to pause and ponder

November 17, 2007

Editorial, NewAge, November 15, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The legal notice, issued by the detained BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, to the Election Commission, asking for withdrawal of its invitation to M Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, who was appointed acting secretary general at an eminently controversial meeting of the BNP standing committee, which also made Saifur Rahman the acting chairman, effectively nullifies the effort by the Saifur-Hafiz faction to create the impression that it enjoys Khaleda’s blessings and is, therefore, the mainstream BNP. The notice, endorses as it does Khandaker Delwar Hossain’s claim that he has Khaleda’s support, also poses a legitimacy crisis for the Saifur-Hafiz faction in the public in general and the party’s rank and file in particular. Crucially still, the faction stands exposed in the public eye as a part, if not a product, of the military-driven interim government’s scheme to politically neutralise Khaleda.

Alarmingly, however, neither the government nor the Saifur-Hafiz faction appears daunted by such a decisive turn of event. The faction has already been afforded the right to use the BNP central office, which it exercised gleefully on Wednesday, albeit in the presence of an elaborate security blanket provided by the state’s law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. The security blanket did avert a showdown between the followers of the government-orchestrated and the Khaleda-backed factions of the BNP for the time being, although clashes between the two groups still remain a distinct possibility.

Overall, and we note this with grave concern, the interim government is following to the letter the script, developed and enacted by authoritarian regimes during military rules in the country, of imposing pliant leadership on one major political party or the other, in an effort to reconstructing the political order. History tells us that such attempts never succeed but take a huge toll on the political process nonetheless. Moreover, the government’s persistence with such a detrimental political project runs counter to the pledge it made upon its assumption of office in January to create a level playing field for the political establishments in the run-up to the general elections and will further erode whatever faith the public still has in it. Consequently, all its actions and inactions will remain questionable.

The Election Commission has, meanwhile, made the situation even more complicated by becoming party to the political crime that is being perpetrated. We have already indicated in these columns that the chief election commissioner may have inexorably damaged his and the commission’s credibility by first inviting Hafiz to the reforms dialogue and then unabashedly defending the decision. On top of it, comes the decision to take legal recourse to Khaleda’s notice, which would no doubt put the entire electoral process into question. Thus far, the commission has, through a series of questionable actions, appeared to be toeing the line of the government, which is contrary to the people’s expectations for it to be independent.

In the final analysis, the interim government seems to have put the country in a greater political and legal mess than it was in prior to January 11. The government can still get the country back from the brink of sustained political uncertainty by moving away from its political projects. The Election Commission, on the other hand, should rethink its position and play a proactive role so that the political parties can be democratised under their existing leadership.

Election Commission becomes party to a political crime

November 17, 2007

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.

CEC digging himself a deeper hole

November 17, 2007

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.

Election Commission undermines its own credibility

November 7, 2007

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.

Election Commission draws up CHT Voter List: malafide and malicious to hill peoples interests?

November 2, 2007

Shikhori Changma, November 2007

The present caretaker government in Bangladesh took power on 11 January 2007, and soon after, initiated reforms within the Election Commission by appointing new Election Commissioners. More recently, it brought into effect the Electoral Rolls Ordinance, 2007 (Ordinance 18 of 2007). This ordinance enables the Election Commission to register voters for different electoral bodies, to register them with the assistance of computerised databases which will also have their photographs. By `electoral bodies’ the Comission means the national Parliament, and local government bodies that are elected, such as Union Parishad, Upazilla Parishad, Zilla Parishad, and Municipal or City Corporation.

According to the new law, the Election Comission will prepare a complete voter list for the 2008 Parliamentary election, and for elections to local government bodies. The army will assist the Commission in this task. The work of registering voters has been concluded in many upazillas and zillas of Bangladesh. The task of registering voters in Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagracchari, the three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, began on 22 October.

Voters in the Hill Tracts have been registered for national elections before, but this registration is different to previous ones, and there is consternation in the air. Differences between previous registration methods and present ones are considerable. The new voter list is a computerised one, the voter list will provide national identity cards, and elections to local bodies (Zilla Parishad, Pourashava, Upazilla, Union Parishad) will be held on the basis of this voter list. Herein lies the reason for consternation and anxiety.

That the Chittagong Hill Tracts is an indivisible part of Bangladesh, is undeniable. Similarly, it is undeniable that the CHT is a special area. The paharis or hill peoples have enjoyed a special status for many hundreds of years. The area has been governed by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900, in addition to other laws prevalent in the country. The Regulation ensured its separate legal status. It was recognised as such during the British colonial period. Its special status continued during the Pakistan period. It did continue after the independence of Bangladesh but for a brief period, only to be totally disregarded later. To defend their existence the hill peoples rebelled; the rebellion soon took the form of an armed strugle. In the name of suppressing the rebellion, the armed forces conducted genocidal operations in the Hill Tracts, killing, maiming and uprooting hills peoples from their ancestral land, raping women, destroying villages, and settling outsider Bengalis on pahari land. On 2 December 1997, after 24 long years, the government of Bangladesh signed an accord with the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS, or JSS for short). This accord later came to be known as the Peace accord, and although it did not seriously attempt to redress the injustices and wrongs done to the hills peoples, it did reduce the level of systematic violence, and the general lawlessness that had been characteristic of the region for many decades. After the signing of the accord, a Regional Council was formed in the CHT, alongwith three District Councils.

Those eligible to vote in the Regional Council and in the three District Councils, under existing CHT laws, are those who are permanent residents of the Hill Tracts. That only permanent residents can be enlisted as voters, is clearly stated in the Parbatya Zilla Parishad Ain, 1989 (section 17). According to this law, voter eligibility is based on (i) Bangladeshi citizenship (ii) age (must be above 18 years) (iii) mental health, and on being a (iv) permanent resident of Rangamati/ Bandarban/ Khagracchari. The Chittagong Hills Regulation, 1900 (34 (1) rule) defines permanent settlement clearly. A non-tribal person can be considered to be a permanent resident, only if he or she has been a house-owner in CHT for at least 15 years, and in addition does not own a house outside CHT. Or, a non-tribal person can be a permanent resident if he or she has a house, coupled with agricultural land which has been settled on the person by the Deputy Commissioner of CHT, and has no house or agricultural land anywhere else, that is, in any district outside the Hill Tracts.

Since these laws still exist, it is incumbent that Election Commission officials sit with Regional and Zilla Parishad representatives to determine first and foremost the list of permanent residents in the CHT. But instead, the EC has jumped headlong into the task of preparing a voter list. In effect, this means that the Election Commission is preparing a voter list which enrols Bengali settlers as voters, it thereby turns them into permanent residents of the CHT. And in effect, this means that the Election Commission is subverting the laws of land.

Bengalis enter into the Hill Tracts almost every day, even though the CHT enjoys special status. They are also able to settle down, often with the direct or indirect assistance of the government, both civilian and army administrators. This has continued even after the signing of the Peace accord. Recent attempts at rehabilitation sparked off a confrontation between paharis and Bengalis in the Dighinala area of Khagracchari district. A situation of unrest still prevails. Pahari suspicions have been further deepened as EC officials, aided by the army, continue in their task of enrolling voters.

Through preparing voter lists, the government and the army is ensuring that demographic changes in the CHT are made more irreversible than ever before. Further, there are parallel attempts to invalidate the Peace accord. One such instance is a writ petition filed in court by advocate Tajul Islam himself on 27 August 2007. The petition (writ petition no 6451/2007) calls on the Government to give reasons as to why the Peace Accord signed between the government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) should not be considered unconstitutional. The petitioner maintains that the accord violated the provisions of the Constitution, it contravened the sovereignty of Bangladesh and the supremacy of its Constitution. Hence, it should not only be declared illegal, it should not have any legal effect. The Court has simultaneously directed one of the respondents i.e., the Election Commission, to not deprive any non-tribal citizen from being enlisted as a voter during the voter enlistment process, on grounds of beings non-permanent residents of the CHT.

The High Court has issued a rule against the government, and at present the case is pending in the High Court. What is remarkable about the writ petition is that the petitioner has not made the PCJSS (or the Regional Council) a respondent in the case, even though it is a party to the Peace accord. The petitioner hmself does not reside or live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. As a matter of fact, according to insider sources, the learned advocate has never even visited the CHT. Further, the petition makes no mention of two other writ petitions on the same issue that are at present pending in the High Court. One of these petitions was made soon after the Peace accord (writ petition no 4113/1999), asking that the Peace accord be declared illegal and unconstitutional. The second petition was filed by a Bengali settler, and asks why the Regional Council Law, 1988 and Rangamati/Bandarban, Khagracchari Zilla Parishad Law, 1998 should not be declared unconstitutional. Both these cases are pending. What is of further interest is that though the latest writ petition is of great public interest and concern, the Attorney General who represents the government, made no attempt to put forth a strong rebuttal of the petition.

The hill peoples have fought the Bangladesh army for many decades in the CHT, in order to ensure their survival. These two forces are still suspicious of each other. In this situation, army assistance in preparing voter lists can only serve to exacerbate tensions. It is not far-fetched to assume that many paharis may not even turn up to register as voters. That the government or the EC does not seem to be concerned about these realities, is quite remarkable. Equally remarkable is the fact that neither of the pahari political parties, neither the PCJSS nor the UPDF (United Peoples Democratic Front) which have represented and fought for pahari interests have either been consulted, or made a party to the government’s voter registration process. This has only served to deepen pahari fears and anxieties that the mechanism and process of voter registration in the CHT is malicious in intent.

An Election Commissioner had recently commented that the new “voter list will be a source of pride for the nation and its peoples” (Prothom Alo, 26.10.2007).

It might well be so for the rest of Bangladesh, but surely not for the paharis.