Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Govt Roadblocks on EC Roadmap

New Age, August 14, 2007

The Election Commission has made public its intention to engage in dialogue with the political parties on the proposed reforms in the electoral law between September and November. One of the election commissioners, M Sakhawat Hussain, said on August 9 that the commission would ‘send a copy of the draft reforms of electoral laws, probably in the last week of this month, to the offices of the political parties’. The Awami League has, however, made it clear that, while it was ‘very interested in holding discussions with the Election Commission’, it ‘will not be able to participate [in the dialogue] until the ban on political activities is lifted’. It is likely that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party will take a similar stance. The government has, meanwhile, shown no urgency about withdrawal of the ban and seems unlikely to in foreseeable future. The commission did request the government to lift the ban on more than one occasion, in vain, needless to say, and seems to have decided not to make any more requests. Sakhawat insisted that the commission ‘will complete our task according to our announced roadmap’, whether the government lifted the ban or not. In such circumstances, we fail to see what good the dialogue will do towards paving the way for credible and contested elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad, which have remained stalled since January 22.

Time and again, we have pointed out that the BNP and the Awami League, as the two major political parties that have alternated as the governing party over the past 15 years under the leadership of Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina respectively, are the prime stakeholders in the political process and should be treated as such. Regrettably, the military-driven interim government has treated both the parties, especially its top leadership, with disdain right from the start and appeared intent on relegating Khaleda and Hasina to irrelevance in a bid to introduce a new political order spearheaded by its cronies. In pursuit of its so-called ‘minus-two’ agenda, the government has steadfastly enforced the ban on political activities selectively. Those political leaders who have displayed their willingness to toe its line, including the ‘reformists’ in the BNP and the Awami League, continue to be afforded preferential treatment, while Khaleda, Hasina and their followers face restrictions at every step.

The Election Commission’s insistence on holding the dialogue on electoral reforms before withdrawal of the ban on political activities may very well raise the suspicion that the supposedly independent body is increasingly aligning itself with, if not brazenly toeing the lines of, the interim government. We would like to believe that the suspicion will be proved unfounded by the commission. Let us remind the commission that the constitution empowers it to command, not request, the interim government to provide whatever assistance it needs towards holding credible and contested elections to the parliament. We believe, at this point in time, the commission needs the withdrawal of the ban on political activities so that it can engage the political parties in a fruitful dialogue on electoral reforms. We hope that the commission realises that and will be able to make the government realise that as well. It must not allow the government to be the stumbling block on its election roadmap.

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