EC officials seek provision in RPO allowing army deployment during polls

UNB . Dhaka | Update:

Election commissions field-level officials want to bring back the Defence Forces under the definition of law enforcement agency of the Representation of the People Order (RPO).
The EC secretariat has recently received and compiled proposals from its officials to amend the RPO 1972 ahead of the 11th parliamentary elections likely to be held in late December 2018 or early 2019.
If the Defence Forces are finally brought under the definition of law enforcement agency, the members of the Army, Air Force and Navy deployed for election duty will again get empowered to arrest anyone without warrant within a 400-yard radius of a polling station for violation of electoral laws on any polling day.
At least five election officials - three regional election officers, a district election officer and a senior assistant secretary - came up with their opinions for the incorporation of either Defence Forces, or Armed Forces or the Army under the definition of the law enforcement agency.
A senior assistant secretary has made his proposal saying that the change in the definition of law enforcement agency is needed to ensure effective deployment of the Defence Forces in election duties.
A regional election officer has said he backs the idea for the sake of holding fair elections and making the commissions neutrality visible.
As per the existing provision (article 2) of the RPO, the law enforcement agency means any police, Armed Police Battalion, Rapid Action Battalion, Ansar, Battalion Ansar, Border Guard Bangladesh and Coast Guard.
The RPO was amended before the 2001 national election bringing the armed forces under the definition of law enforcement agency.
In 2009, the RPO was amended dropping the words armed forces from the definition of law enforcement agencies. So, the armed forces lost the authority to arrest without warrant.
Besides, the EC officials have made proposals to change a RPO provision so that no government official can contest any parliamentary election unless five years (instead of existing three years) are over since the date of ones resignation or retirement.
They have suggested a new provision saying that the persons, who earlier contested parliamentary elections but failed to submit election expense return to the Returning Officer, should not be allowed to contest the national polls.
They also recommended incorporation of another new provision for creating scope for online submission of nomination paper.
The EC officials said the returning officer should also send notice over withdrawal of candidature to the Election Commission instantly on the withdrawal day as early as possible. The proposal has been made to ensure transparency in the process of withdrawal of candidature.
They proposed empowerment of returning officers to cancel the balloting of any polling station on or before the polling day. The proposal is aimed at preventing ballot paper snatching at the previous night of the election.
EC officials suggested arrangements of re-election in the case of equality of votes between two candidates, without declaring the winner upon a lottery.
They also proposed the formation of a district-level committee to monitor election expenses by candidates.
They also want the empowerment of returning officers to suspend any polling personnel or any member of law enforcement agencies instantly for involvement in irregularities.
A committee is now working on the amendment to the RPO and other law reform, EC secretary Muhammad Abdullah told UNB on Saturday.
The draft amendment to RPO will be finalised ahead of the national election, he said.

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