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Election Commission : Reformation & Revitalisation




Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed

Bangladesh got its independence 40 years ago. 40 years is quite enough for institutionalising democratic institutions. However, it is our great regret that we have failed to do so. This is mainly because of existence of undemocratic government for a long time and lack of tolerance and consensus building among political parties.
Our election is based on ‘First past the post’ principle. That’s why our candidates desperately use money, muscle power, kinship and whatever they have in their stock to get at least one more vote than his contenders. But in many cases it is found that more votes are being cast against the winning candidate. That means the elected candidate represent the minority. It infringes upon the very concept of democracy. To come out of this situation  we need to reform the election system. This is more important than the ongoing debate for and against caretaker government. Our electoral system should deliver meaningful result otherwise following rituals of voting will not bring any positive change.  We should adopt proportional system of representation. In proportional system, party gets priority over person. People will compare manifestos of the contending parties. Parties will also be sincere in making their pledges. In the present system of election, we follow an anachronistic system of loyalty to a person. It is denial of plural space. And thus our democracy has degraded into electing an absolute leader.

Another important point is increasing the number of seats in parliament. In 1973, there were 300 seats for 7.5 crore people. Over the years the population has doubled but the number of seats remains same. In House of Commons number of seats increases in proportion to number of voters. We should also think of the same.

We should also ensure participation of non-resident Bangladeshis in election. They are our significant source of foreign currency. They also represent our country in abroad. In Mozambique there are two seats reserved for non residents.
We should rethink over the constitutional impediment on electing dual citizens. If a person can hold responsible position in abroad why he would not be allowed to represent in his own country. In our country, many candidates have dual citizenship but they have to hide the information.

Our election should be vibrant, relevant and responsive. Civil society and academicians should be included in election commission. In our country it has become a tradition that only people from civil service, military and judiciary get appointment in election commission. It narrows the scope of a credible election commission.

Finally we have to create a space for plurality of thoughts. People have to be encouraged to ask questions about their rights.

The conduct of free and fair elections is at the heart of the democratic process.
But what are the characteristics of a credible election? Although there is no standard definition of a credible election, there are some aspects of a credible election. The first and foremost feature of a credible election is that it must have the reflection of the will of the people. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

The second important criterion of a credible election is that it must be participated by all qualified political parties.

The third fundamental ingredient of a credible election is that the electoral process must be trusted by the citizens. Ensuring fair competition among the political parties and candidates is the attributes of a credible election. Another characteristic of a credible election is the acceptable voter turnout.
Free and fair elections are not generally considered possible without a means of verifying legitimate voters. Hence, electoral registers are therefore essential in any voting system. The fundamental purpose of a voter-registration system is to restrict access to the voting booth to ensure that only those people entitled to vote in a given jurisdiction can do so, but they each vote only once. There are a set of internationally accepted guiding principles to prepare and update the electoral roll. Integrity is the most important guideline which means the registration process should be fair, honest, and strive to allow all eligible persons to be included on the rolls while preventing inclusion of ineligible persons.
It is a common allegation that data collectors do not make door to door visits. This results in an inaccurate, non-inclusive and non-credible electoral roll. Only strong and comprehensive monitoring by the ECB can resolve this issue. As per the law, strong actions could be taken against those who fail or neglect to do their duties properly. India observes January 25 as its National Voters’ Day to commemorate the foundation day of the Election Commission of India and also to enhance the participation of voters, especially the youth, in the democratic process. Bhutan celebrates this day on September 15, coinciding with the International Democracy Day. The ECB should initiate such a day in Bangladesh to raise awareness. ECB has established server stations at the upazila/thana level throughout the country. Although the main purpose of this initiative is to decentralise the voter registration process, the ECB is still not utilising this establishment. Immediate steps for decentralising will help ECB to prepare a credible electoral roll.
The right of all adult citizens to participate in the affairs of their government is one of the cornerstones of democracy. If conducted well, voter registration confers legitimacy on the process. But “the harsh reality is that any voter register that is accurate today will be less accurate tomorrow unless effective procedures are put into place to keep the register current.” Every citizen needs to be made aware about proper registration. A single effort of ECB cannot be enough to bring all eligible voters into the mainstream, hence, the civil society, all government organisations, non-government organisations and concerned stakeholders must be involved to make this initiative successful.

The Election Commission should take proper initiatives to make the election machanism easier, free, fair- so that it earms voter’s trust. Rather Election Commission should be neutral to up hold the democratic invirnment. This will help Bangladesh to be a real democratic country. In fine, we can say that if there is a credible election, acceptable electoral roll, digitalision of voting system and some other pregmative steps then Election Commission will appear strong.
19 June, 2017

Deputy Director General & Commandant (PRL), Ansar-VDP Academy, Safipur, Gazipur.

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