Let it not be mere formality

M Sakhawat Hossain | Update:

The five-member Election Commission led by chief election commissioner Nurul Huda on 16 July published a plan of action ahead of the 11th national elections.

Commonly known as 'roadmap', it has let the people know the EC's plans, and is perceived as a forward-looking move. It was done once before in 2008, and after all these years, now, by the present EC. The immediate past commission of Rakib could not build on the good work of the Huda Commission of 2008, because they did not care about transparency.

The EC initiative to hold dialogues on the action plan is really commendable. The entities the EC will be sitting with are widely accepted as Election Monitoring Bodies (EMB) across the democratic world. The 31 July dialogue with the representatives of the civil society was a beginning of this process.

Although the dialogue's scope is limited, I personally think that it has been fruitful. It was the EC's first attempt to earn the trust of the masses. The recommendations that the civil society have made may not be detailed, but the EC at least have got an idea. It would have been better if the process was subject-oriented and elaborate.

The recommendations that have made the headlines should be given legal frame. Many of them are widely discussed and they deserve the EC's attention. The then Huda Commission gave those recommendations a legal framework in 2011 just before the end of their tenure.

Although many of the invitees could not make it to the last dialogue, I do not think it has lessened the gravity of the session. The EC may arrange another dialogue with them in a limited capacity.

I want to discuss two issues recommended by the civil society in light of my experience and research. Deploying army during parliamentary elections has been debated time and again over the years. It's nothing new. The army have been deployed not only during parliamentary elections but also during local government polls as well.

In the RPO in 2001, the army was defined as a law enforcement agency, which was in effect till 2010. In 2008, the army was given the power to independently take action during the polls, like the police and other forces. It was the same during the last municipality polls in 2010. The army, however, was to act under the supervision of the returning officers.

Deploying the army during the parliamentary elections has long been debated. We have to remember that 10 million people cast their votes at several hundred thousand polling booths in 40,000 centres on the election day. So, a multi-layered security system is a must, which can only be ensured when the army is deployed.

We know how our political figures flex their muscles. So the first thing the EC has to think about is security. Only a few years ago as many as 110 people were killed and a few thousands were injured during the union council polls, and that too despite army deployment. So it can be deduced that deploying army is a must, and it's a brutal reality.

Another reason to deploy army is public trust. Since the army stand by the distressed during natural disasters, their presence makes people feel safe. Around 50 per cent of the voters are women, who won't come to the polling stations to cast their votes if there is a security issue. So, the EC needs army deployment not to serve a political purpose, rather to ensure smooth holding of the polls.

As many as 90 per cent of the civil society members recommended keeping the provision of 'No' vote, which caught my eye. It was introduced in 2008, but cancelled a year later. Most of the political parties do not want this provision, but India, the biggest democracy did go for 'No' vote in their national polls. Even in India, politicians were against the move, but the court said that is a basic right of a citizen. If we had 'No' vote here, we would not have to lament that 153 MPs had been elected uncontested.

I have expressed my opinions on these two issues here. But it does not mean that the other points are less important. It needs to be seen what the EC does, and with how much strictness. Although the government and the parliament are making the laws, the EC still has a significant role to play. The EC will only earn the trust of the countrymen if they can translate the plans into reality. I hope their efforts will not only be limited to mere formality.

In the end, I would like to commend the EC's initiative to hold dialogues with the stakeholders.

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