The last three national elections in Bangladesh were held in 2008, 2014 and 2018. Of these three elections, only the 2008 election was widely acclaimed. Why are the two elections in 2014 and 2018 so criticized at home and abroad? The answer is probably, elections under an elected government. According to the constitution, another election will be held in 2023 under the current ruling party Awami League. So, the same question has been raised about the fairness of the upcoming 2023 national election. Is this election going to be controversial like in 2014 and 2018? To remove the controversial debate, the ruling government passed a law to form an election commission at the beginning of the year. Which is a miracle in the 50-year history of Bangladesh.
According to the law on the formation of the election commission, a new election commission has already been formed. Its chief is Kazi Habibul Awal. he is a retired secretary. Now the question is, will this new commission be able to bring back democracy and fair elections in Bangladesh? Although the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-BNP thinks fair elections are not possible without a caretaker government. Referring to the BNP as an election-oriented party, the secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, “We believe in elections. If we want to go to that election, we need fair, neutral and acceptable elections.” Mirza Fakhrul also said that even after so much turmoil in Pakistan, there are caretaker government in charge of elections.
Akbar Ali Khan, an adviser to the former caretaker government, also said that if the election were held under a political government, the executive branch could not go beyond the direction of the government power. Therefore, in the current situation in Bangladesh, the Election Commission alone can’t hold free, fair and neutral elections.
The newly formed Kazi Habibul Awal Commission is facing a crisis of fairness due to the bias of the last two election commissions. The new Election Commission has some work to do to overcome the crisis of fairness. First, lessons from the last disputed elections and preparation for fair election.Second, to make everyone in the commission work beyond party affiliation. Third, strict enforcement of existing election laws.
First, lessons from the last disputed elections and preparation for fair election:
An important role of the newly formed Awal Commission may be to analyze the last two controversial national elections. And to take the necessary lessons from it. At the same time to ensure proper implementation of the existing election laws of the country. Creating a level playing field for everyone. Identify the failures and inadequacies of the last two election commissions so that they can be avoided in their case.
Secondly, all commission members should work beyond their political affiliations.
Every member of the new commission must work beyond the political party affiliation. So that the people of the country can be given a fair election. In addition, there are allegations of misconduct against the Election Commission Secretariat and some officials. It has been alleged that a syndicate of partisanship and corruption has been formed within the commission. All this needs to end.
Third, strict enforcement of existing election laws:
There are enough laws in Bangladesh to conduct fair elections. Which need proper application. In many cases, elections are in question due to a lack of proper implementation of the law. The role of law enforcement and government officials during elections should be kept under proper supervision. In addition, for the registration of a political party, 90 sections of RPO must be followed properly. The Election Commission is an independent and constitutional institution. All those who have come to this commission have long experience in administrative work. According to that experience, they must identify the weaknesses and shortcomings of the electoral system and have to remove the obstacles. As a constitutional body, its job is not to serve any political party. The election must be participatory. And that will be ensured if we could make level the playing field for all. Not only should the Election Commission be impartial, but they should also ensure that everyone involved in the election works impartially.
As well the Commission, others are responsible for ensuring a fair election:
The Election Commission cannot make elections free, fair and participatory if it wants to; If the political leaders, public administration and law enforcement do not cooperate. What should they do in that case? No matter how many obstacles or adversities there may be, the powers vested in the Constitution and Law Commission must be exercised. Regrettably, even after 50 years of independence, Bangladeshi political leadership has not been able to reach Consensus in elections. Bangladesh’s political leaders struggled to protect the people’s right to vote when they are in out of power; When they came to power, they continued their various attempts to deprive them of the right to vote. Almost all the laws and regulations that aim for fair elections have been nullified.
Independent mass media and a fair election:
The Chief Election Commissioner has sought the cooperation of the mass media regarding the 2023 National Election of Bangladesh. Along with various organizations, the mass media also acts as an observer in any elections. However, there is criticism of election-centric journalism in Bangladesh. There are also questions about how independent the Bangladeshi mass media can be during the national elections. But the media must publish the right information from their side. Besides, state media such as Bangladesh Betar, Bangladesh Television, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and Information Department should also play a moral role.
Lastly, the role of the Election Commission is more to make the election 100 per cent fair. Because at the election time the commission must play the strongest role. Bangladesh’s elections in the 2023, however, remain highly questionable. At a recent event, newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal remarked that success can be achieved if 50 to 60 per cent of people accept the election. He also thinks that 100 per cent success in elections is never possible. If Election Commission continue with the goal of 50-60 per cent acceptance, it creates fear in the minds of the general people. Because people may think that the new commission has already surrendered to the ruling government.