The People of Bangladesh having proclaimed independence on 26th day of March, 1971 and through a historic war for national war for independence established the independent, sovereign People's Republic of Bangladesh. One of the fundamental principles of state policy is democracy (Article 8 & 11 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Government-2006). The Republic is a democracy, in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all level is ensured (Article 11, ibid). To ensure regular, transparent, free and fair election, amending the constitution provision for Non-Party Caretaker Government is created by inserting Article 58B headed by a Chief Advisor after Parliament is dissolved or stands dissolved by reason of expiration of its term till the date on which a new Prime Minister enters upon his office after Constitution of the Parliament.
Electoral Process Electoral process for both local government institutions, the Parliament and the President are constitutionally guaranteed (Chapter III & Chapter IV ibid). Legal and constitutional provisions seems to be adequate to ensure voters to express their choices. Though legal provisions are enough but some academic and civil service organisation some problems and barriers still exist for expressing free and fair choice of the people.
Voting Rights Preparation of electoral roll for holding election by the Commission is made compulsory under Article 121. But from voters end enrollment is not mandatory.
"There shall be one electoral roll for each constituency for the purposes of elections to Parliament, and no special electoral roll shall be prepared so as to classify electors according to religion, race caste or sex."
Voter registration in practice helps for conducting election. It helps for estimating ballot papers, number of booths etc. But to facilitate free election electoral roll need to be prepared correctly with real voters only.
Commission prepare voter list based on an electoral area. All voters need to be present in person in their voter area for providing data and enrollment with photograph electronically. Migrant workers and expatriates face hardship during registering their name in the electoral roll due to their absence in their voter areas. If they could enrolled usually they fail to cast their vote in any election. As because they are not allowed to cast their vote through postal ballot. The Representation of the People Order, 1972 allows only government servants & their spouse, sons, daughters through postal ballot within the country and outside. But to cast vote through postal ballot getting ballot paper intime and tender vote and make those available for counting are a real problem.
As per the Electoral Roll Ordinance 2007 electoral role means electoral roll with photograph which does not addressed the issues of expatriates and migrant workers enrollment. In addition procedural and technical limitations are unsettled the issue.
Getting ballot within a very short time frame and sending it back to the Returning Officer expressing his/her choice are real challenges.
Three types of elections are conducted by the Election Commission: - Presidential - Parliament - Local Bodies
Parliamentary system of Government does not allow the voters to elect the President directly. The electoral roll for the Presidential election is separate from the Parliament election. The Parliament Members are only enrolled in the electoral roll for the presidential election. On the other hand, Commission prepares voter list for all citizen of Bangladesh; who is not less than eighteen years of age; does stand declared by a competent court to be an unsound mind; and is or is deems by law to be a resident of the constituency. Same electoral roll is used for the local bodies and the Parliament election by reorganising the voter list for the delimited local bodies electoral area.
Bangladesh Electoral laws do not allow the voters to express non-confidence through 'no-vote'. On going reform proposals are infavour of it and the Commission is considering actively introduction of no vote in future.
The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1972 ensure following discloser: i) Statement of probable source of found to meet election expenses; ii) Statement of assets and liabilities; and iii) Annual income and expenditure.
Existing discloser provisions have very little impact on empowering the voters. Experiences say that those are not enough and even not implemented properly. In reality discloser provisions fail to protect expression of people's free choice. Disclosers are voluntary in nature. Without having any provision of penalties for hiding information or disclosing erroneous information, it is rather a ritual.
The present Election Commission as a part of reform is infavour of inclusion of 8 discloser provisions in the Conduct of Election Rules, as per the High Court verdict. Present Commission wants to continue with those discloser provision and for imposing penalties for hiding or providing erroneous information. But some ghost candidate has filed a case challenging the verdict, which is still under consideration of the Court of law.
Member/Candidate Nomination procedure by the political parties are highly criticized by the general public, and Civil Society Organisations as discriminatory. They demand representative candidates and democracy within the party.
Party top leaders are enjoying the highest privileges in selecting any candidate for any election. Rationales are ignored usually. Other factors become important to the party leaders, not his/her contribution for the party. Common people says that usually money plays an important role for getting selection by the party.
Reforms initiated by the present Commission are aimed for bringing democracy within the party by inserting some provisions in the political parties registration process. Amendment proposal for the Election Commission (Political Parties Registration) Rules, 2001 is placed before the discussion table with the political parties.
The Parliament consist of 300 members to be elected in accordance with law from single territorial constituencies by direct election. 45 seats are exclusively reserved for women members and they are elected by the directly elected Parliament Members in accordance with law on the basis of procedure of proportional representation in the Parliament through single transferable vote. Provided that nothing deems to prevent a woman from being elected directly from any seat (Article 65 of the Constitution). A wide spread allegation against the women seats is that those are offered to the relatives of the top ranking party leader without having sizable contribution for the party. To overcome the situation reform proposals have suggested 30% woman's representatives in the party executive committee.
Qualifications and disqualifications to be elected as Member of Parliament are: Qualification: "Article 65: A person is qualified to be elected and to be a member of the Parliament, if he is a citizen of Bangladesh and has attain the age of 25 years." Disqualifications: - Declared by a competent court to be unsound of mind. - is an undischarged insolvent. - acquires the citizenship of or affirms or acknowledge allegiance to a foreign state. - conviction for a criminal offence for involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release. - Hold office of profit in the service of the republic other then a office which is declared by law not to disqualify its holder. - is disqualified for such election by or under any law.
Those information's are made available to the Commission by the candidates, not disclosed for public consumption. Present Commission is actively considering disclosure of all such information to the public through web, and also will keep open for inspection by the public.
Political Parties In practice political parties are not registered. Major political parties are cult and image based. It commonly says that democratic norms are not is practice with in the parties. Recent investigation has proved that party funding is not transparent at all. Popularly supported political parties are not based on political ideology, though some religion based and ideology based parties are still taking part in elections, those failed to gain enough seat in the Parliament for forming the Government.
Under the Provisions of the Representation of the People Order, 1972, the Election Commission (Political Party Registration) Rules 2001 has been framed. Provisions of those rules are voluntary in nature. An amendment of the rules is included in the reform agenda by the Commission to make registration of the political parties compulsory and to spell out the conditions for registration.
Decision making power of the parties is solely vested to the party chief. Other members have very little to say and to raise questions against the decisions taken by the party chief.
Election Commission Bangladesh Election Commission is a complete functionally independent constitutional body, constituted under the provision of Article 118 of the Constitution.
The present Chief Election Commission is a former civil servant Dr. ATM Shamsul Huda. Other two Hon'ble Election Commissioners are Md. Sohul Hossain former Justice and civil servant and Br. Gen. M Shakhawat Hossain ndc, psc (rtd.) is a former Military bureaucrat and a civil society activist.
Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) is supported by a Election Commission Secretariat (ECS) headed by a Secretary from the Government. ECS is for providing policy level support and to carry out the day to day works mandated by the Constitution and by other related laws to the Commission. ECS implements its training related activities with the help of Electoral Training Institute (ETI) and field level task taking help from Divisional/Regional, District & Upazila/Thana level election offices.
ECS is working as a organ of the government it has full autonomy. That autonomy is guaranteed by the Article 120 of the Constitution;
"The President shall, when so requested by the Election Commission, make available to it such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of its functions under this Part."
The Commission is completely independent from the executives. The constitutional provisions, laws, rules are framed in support to ensure the independence.
As per constitutional provision under Article 118 the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and other Commissioners are subject to the provision of any law made by the President. Such law is yet to be framed. Taking advantages of absence of any such law appointments loyal to the regime has taken place. Lot of such appointments had been taken place in near past which destroyed the image of the independent Election Commission. It may also happen in the future, if appointments of desired personalities are not protected by framing appropriate legal provision.
Voter Registration The constitutional provision and the Electoral Roll Ordinance, 2007 have enough legal coverage for ensuring transparency & accountability of the voter list. District Election Officer as Registration Officer is responsible for preparing electoral roll with photograph, taking necessary assistance from all corners.
Election Commission appoints Assistant Registration Officer (ARO) recommended by the Registration Officer. ARO appoints one enumerator for 300-400 voters in a particular voter area and for five enumerators, a supervisor is engaged for the same area.
Electoral Training Institute provide one day orientation for ARO & Supervisors. Three days skill and knowledge based training is provided to the enumerators. Trained enumerators go house to house enlist voters, collect information using a very structured Form. Voters signature or put thumb impression are placed on the Form as authentication by the voters. They are identified by another voter. Collected data is checked and verified by supervisors before handing it over to the ARO. AROs consolidate the forms before handing those over to the Team Leaders working in registration centre.
Bangladesh Army assisting the Election Commission for completing electronic part of the voter enrollment. Each registration centre is headed by a team leader. 4-6 Data Entry Operators working always in a registration centre under the supervision of the Team Leader. Local government representatives and local elites are working for validating individual voters in the registration centres.
After receiving the completed forms the Team Leaders provide date, time and number of voters to be brought in the centre to the AROs. ARO informs the voters through supervisors and enumerators. An information slip is given to each voters which contain date, time & centre name for taking photograph and finger print.
On the fixed date and time enumerators guide voters to the registration centres. Data Entry Operators enter voter information using form in to the Laptop and fixed their photograph, finger print & signature on the electronic form. After completing the registration a receipt is given to the voters signed by enumerators. Registration centres prepare draft voter list and draft national identity cards. Draft voter list is published for validation and hang it in a designated place for asking objections. Based on objection received and verification, the list is corrected and final voter list is published.
Delimitation of Constituencies Delimitation of Constituencies to the parliament is one of the major function of Election Commission (Article-119). On the other hand delimitation of local bodies constituencies is usually the job of Local Government Ministry.
Administrative unit, location of the settlement, number of voters are major factors for delimitation. Last delimitation of constituencies for the parliament election has completed on 1991. Resettlement of voters and new growth centres taken place demand delimitation, but it was ignored in past due to undue political pressure. It is considered as an unpleased job and was avoided by the Commissions in the past. Delimitation is one of the agenda of this Commission, placed in the Roadmap to be completed before election.
Election Disputes/Violence Election Disputes and violence from disputes are common phenomenon around the world. Bangladesh is not an exception. Pre and post election disputes are common in all elections. Limitations exist in the Election Conduct Rules, 1996 and absence of its implementation has given birth to some of the violence.
Election Commission has its own policy and guidelines for foreign and local observers. As per the Representation of the People Order, 1972, clause 91C, the Commission may permit in writing any person, national or foreign as a election observer under some restriction. Present Commission welcome all election observer within the framework of law.
The general parliament election in Bangladesh is usually held under the Caretaker Government. The Government ensures all measures to prevent abuse of public resources during election. Common allegations in the massmedia are substantial amount of public money is still abused during bye and re-election.
Electoral Reform Initiatives Previous Election Commission was constituted by the politically elected government. There was a wide spread allegation that the commissions were not neutral, rather working for the regime by whom they were appointed. Opposition political parties & Civil Society Organization had a demand for reconstituting the Commission as a new one and for initiating reforms, to rebuilt its neutral image.
After declaration of emergencies on 11.01.2007 the Hon'ble President has reconstituted the Election Commission. New Chief Election Commissioner and two new Commissioners have taken over the responsibilities on oath. They have initiated institutional, legal and procedural reforms and changes.
- Manpower engaged in the Election Commission Secretariat by the previous government on deputation were transferred and new officials with nonpartisan clean image are working now.
- Competencies of official recruited by the previous political regime were examined and those failed to obtain minimum standard dismissed from the service.
- Organogram and recruitment rules have been thoroughly examined as per present need and necessary amendments have been proposed.
- Steps have been taken to filled up all vacant posts gradually.
- Process for enactment of an ordinance for independent ECS is placed before the government.
Bangladesh Election Commission discharge its duties based on following order, ordinance, act, rules, policies and guidelines: - The Representation of People Order, 1972 - The Conduct of Election Rules, 1972 - The Conduct Rules, 1996 - The Election Officials (Special Provision) Act, 1991 - Election Observer Policy - Policy and Guidelines for Foreign Observer - The Election Commission (Political Parties Registration) Rules, 2001
The present Commission has started process for examining the effectiveness of acts rules and ordinance to findout the weakness and to suggest measures to make them time worthy and appropriate for holding free and fair election. The Commission has enacted 'The Electoral Roll Ordinance, 2007' for correct and accurate electoral roll with photograph. The present ordinance does not have the provision to enroll migrant voters. Two of our Hon'ble Election Commissioner had visited United Kingdom to examine the pros-cons for enrollment of migrant workers & absentee voter.
To prepare electoral roll with photograph a project called "Preparation of Electoral Roll with Photograph and Issuance the National ID Card" is now under implementation. As on 1st December 2007 11% of total work has been completed already. Local government bodies, local administration and non governmental organisations are working together for the preparation of voter list as facilitators, validates, awareness builders, co-coordinators, etc.
During preparation of electoral roll with photograph an assessment on appropriate location and place for establishment of voting centres will be made to exclude politically motivated established centres.
The Representative of People's Order, 1972 is under through review for updating the provision as per need of the country. Reforms proposal are under process aimed for ensuring expression of free choices of the voters.
Government has already vested rule making powers to the Election Commission for smooth discharging function vested to it. It is an indication of one important step toward total independence from the executives.
The Commission has prepare draft reform proposals in consultation with the secretariat, experts, massmedia representatives. Now Commission is holding dialogue with the political parties to obtain views from those have representatives in the previous parliament or have considerable public support.
The legal reforms proposals are mainly - Make the rules, procedure, forms user friendly and made those available to the public easily. - Make the registration and voting procedure easy, transparent & accountable. - To ensure voting rights of each voter. - To express no vote as no confidence against the candidate available for voting. - To ensure maximum discloser of candidates information, so voters can use those information for decision making. Ultimately discloser will empower the voters. - To reduce impact of money and muscles in the election process, which will encourage good people to take part in the election. - for brining democratic practices within the political parties decisions making process. For example, for registering a political party, the party have to prove that the committee meetings held regularly. - for ensuring more representation of disadvantage groups like, women in the party and also in the government. For example, proposed draft RPO includes 30% women representatives in the party executive committees. - To make the political parties accountable in respect of expenditure.
Other Reforms Other reforms are aimed for ensuring proper representation establishing voting centres in the right places, so that voters are not restricted with physical or psychological barriers. Those reforms proposals are for- - Delimiting the constituencies as per rules to ensure proper representation from each geographical location. - Reducing election disputes by imposing new conditions during election campaign. - Reducing time to solve election disputes within a reseaonable time frame by imposing time limit in the relevant acts & rules. - Limiting abouse of public resources and money in bye and re-elections. - Introducing transparent ballot box for conducting election which will prevent voting before vote. - Engaging trained and competent technically sound manpower to handle the election issues property and timely.
Reform Challenges Most of the reform agenda are welcomed by the major political parties. Though some political parties resisting some agenda like, - Maximum discloser of information by the candidates; - 30% women representatives in the party executive committee; - Democratic provisions and practices in the party decision making process; - Change in the present voting centres and establishment of new centres; - Delimiting present constituencies; - Limiting use of instruments for meeting & places, fixing time for miking; - Banning political parties student and professional sub-groups; - Restriction on expenditure of money; and - Open use of election observers;
Conclusion Reforms are badly needed to cope with the existing unhealthy and non-democratic situation prevailing in the country. Political parties also have realized and has welcomed those reforms as well as common public. Still some fears do exist among the party activists and candidates. Everybody wants their interests are to be protected. But it is difficult and in reality it cann't be. State interests need to protected during drafting and implementing the reform agenda. State interests are not to be compromised.
References: 1.Government of Bangladesh (2006): The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, BG Press, Dhaka 2. Government of Bangladesh (1972): The Representation of the People Order, 1972, BG Press, Dhaka 3. Government of Bangladesh (1972): The Conduct of Election Rules, 1972. BG Press, Dhaka 4. Government of Bangladesh (1996): The Conduct Rules, 1996, BG Press, Dhaka 5. Government of Bangladesh (1991): The Election Officials (Special Provision) Act, 1991, BG Press, Dhaka 6. Election Commission Secretariat (1991): The Policy & Guidelines for Foreign Observer, BG Press, Dhaka 7. Government of Bangladesh (2001): The Election Commission (Political Parties Registration) Rules, 2001, BG Press, Dhaka 8. Election Commission Secretariat (2007): Project Documents, ECS, Dhaka