Level playing field to ensure free and fair polls: TIB

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has said that it is not possible to create a level playing field for all political parties if Parliament remains functional during the 10th general election. “Considering our political perspective, a level playing field is not possible while keeping the Parliament functional during the general elections. If the elections are held, questions would arise regarding its results. So a level playing field is necessary to ensure free and fair elections,” TIB executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said on Sunday.
He made the observation at a press conference on “Effective Election Commission: Progress, Challenges and Way Out”, at the BRAC Inn Centre in the city. M Hafizuddin Khan, former adviser to the caretaker government, was in the chair. Dr Iftekharuzzaman further noted that there are differences between general elections and local government elections.
“Though there are some debates regarding the fairness and neutrality of the local government elections, those elections under the present Election Commission (EC) were more or less acceptable to all. However, national elections depend on the acceptability of the election-time government to all political parties and the Election Commission’s capacity to hold free, fair and acceptable polls,” he added.
He further said, “The preconditions for holding a free and fair election are, firstly, an effective Election Commission, which would be able to function independently and impartially, and secondly, the election-time government has to achieve the trust of all political parties.”
Replying to a query, he said, “The present government can hypothetically hold the elections as per the 15th amendment under the partisan government. If the Opposition takes part in the elections, there will be no problem. But if the Opposition does not participate, the EC could not be held solely responsible.”
Hafizuddin Khan said, “There is no handover of power through the local government elections. Power changes with the parliamentary elections. The capacity of the EC to hold free, fair and acceptable national elections cannot be evaluated properly by judging the local government elections.”
He also suggested holding elections with the EC’s own officials as the administration, he said, has been politicised.
“We cannot rely on the deputy commissioners to ensure free and fair elections. As we all know, the administration has been politicised. The EC should have an independent body and returning officers of its own to hold free and fair elections,” he added. mHafizuddin also alleged that the present EC did not talk to all stakeholders regarding the amendment to the Representation of the People Order (RPO); instead, it sent the recommendations to the Cabinet for approval.
About the election expenditure of each candidate, he said, “The expenditure ceiling has been increased from Tk. 15 lakh to Tk. 25 lakh.
This would be a bar to honest candidates, who would not able to take part in the elections by spending such a huge amount of money. The influence of money on the elections has to be minimised to pave the path for honest candidates to participate.”
Shahjada M Akram, senior programme manager of TIB, presented a research paper, saying that the EC will face a big challenge to create a level playing field for all political parties in the 10th general elections.
He also pointed out some other challenges for the EC: determination of a timeframe for holding elections, polls keeping the Parliament functional, special facilities for ministers and members of Parliament, the EC’s firm stand against candidates who violate the electoral code of conduct, control of law and order as well as use of black money and muscle power during the election campaign.
The paper has also made several recommendations to the EC, including achieving the trust of the main political parties for holding free and fair elections, using its own manpower for holding the elections, and ensuring disclosure of candidates’ information. It also recommended to the government to amend electoral laws to remove different limitations and to reinstate the ‘no vote’ option for the next two general elections.

-With The Independent input

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