In the coming days, a number of city corporations and municipal elections are going to be held throughout the country. These will be followed by the next general election.
Meanwhile, a series of dialogues between the Election Commission (EC) and political parties was held to discuss their viewpoints on holding the next parliamentary election. The purpose of these discussions was how to create a level playing ground to ensure that the election is held in a free and fair manner with the participation of all political parties. All major political parties particularly the Bangladesh Awami League (AL), the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jatiyo Party (JP) participated in dialogues with the EC and all the parties have made their suggestions on various issues concerning the parliamentary election. However, holding the coming elections of the urban local government bodies in a credible manner will be an acid test especially for the Election Commission. But here it needs to be mentioned that responsibility of holding any election in an acceptable manner not lies only on the Election Commission but also on all stakeholders. They include the political parties, the government and its machineries, the electorates meaning the people and the Election Commission.
Political parties have significant role to play in the election process. Without their active cooperation and participation it is not possible to hold any election in a peaceful and credible way. On their part, the political parties need to suggest ways and means to the Election Commission to hold fair elections in the country. These suggestions are ought to be within the purview of the provisions of the Constitution and other related laws concerning election process. There could be some debatable issues but at the end of the day these need to be resolved through broad consensus reached between the stakeholders. The roles of the political parties do not end there. Their roles also include not nominating candidates with dubious track records and also educate their supporters in observe the election code of conduct. This is very important for allowing the electorates in casting their votes for the candidates of their choices without and fear and hindrances. The political parties in Bangladesh also need to come out of the culture of not accepting the verdicts of the people after the declaration of the election results. Acceptance of election result will help in institutionalising the democratic process of changing government through ballot and not through any other unconstitutional means or mechanism.
The government and its machineries are also very important stakeholders in the fair election process. Without their active and ready cooperation it is next to impossible to hold acceptable election in the country. Government machineries include the public bureaucracy particularly working at the field level. In fact, they provide necessary support to the election commission in holding election throughout the country. On the other hand, the law enforcing agencies support and cooperation are also needed during election time especially to maintain law and order. During the electioneering period, their proactive role deters the trouble mongers to stay away from disrupting the process of holding election in a peaceful manner. Here it also needs to be pointed out that the roles of the public bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies are not only limited to only holding the election in a peaceful way. It goes beyond that and extended to maintaining of law and order and preserving rights of especially the vulnerable communities after election results are declared. We have sad and regretful past experiences of atrocities committed against these sections of the population after the announcement of the election results. More unfortunate experience was the continuation of this state of affairs for quite sometimes even after swearing of the new government formed after the election. This type of human rights violation is not acceptable in any civilized society. In these cases of ensuring the support of the field level public bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies the role of the government is of crucial importance. The government needs to provide necessary directives to these institutions to work in aid to the Election Commission. The government must refrain from interfering in the activities of these institutions during election as these would be working for assisting the Election Commission. The government must not forget its role of assisting the Election Commission in holding credible elections and not interfering in the process.
The electorates meaning the people are the other important stakeholders that matter for holding fair and credible election in the country. Conscious and informed citizens play an important role in the election process. They are also a vital element for the development of democratic and tolerant environment especially during election time. It is essential that the citizens supporting different political parties must follow the election code of conduct. The concerned political parties also must ensure that their supporters do not indulge in activities that cause any disruption in the electioneering process.
The Election Commission perhaps is the most important stakeholder in ensuring credible election acceptable both nationally and internationally. In a highly divisive society like Bangladesh the role of Election Commission has become more important than others. It is crucial that the political parties have confidence in the Election Commission. This confidence can only be earned by maintaining strict neutrality and avoiding controversies on issues relating to holding of elections. But here its needs to be mentioned that in discharging its responsibilities the Election Commission also needs the support of the other stakeholders mentioned above. Without their support, the Election Commission cannot ensure credible elections. The ensuing city corporations and municipal elections are prelude to the next parliamentary election. The Election Commission must play its due role in these elections and thereby earn confidence of the political parties that it can hold acceptable and credible general election in the country.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is the Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka And Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh