1468Published on March 2, 2022
Pranab Kumar Panday:
The most important issue in the contemporary political context of Bangladesh is the formation of the Election Commission (EC). After the government passed the Election Commission Act in Parliament, His Excellency the President has constituted a search committee as per the provisions of the Act. The committee will present a list of 10 names to His Excellency the President in consultation with various political parties, professional organisations, and civil society representatives. His Excellency the President will appoint the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners from among this list. Since the next parliamentary election will be held in 2023, the formation of the current EC is very important because the next election will be held under the newly formed EC.
With this in mind, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did not participate in the EC formation process. They did not even submit the list of preferred candidates at the search committee's invitation. Having refrained from the process, they have claimed that this EC will work to bring the Awami League (AL) back to power. Now, a pertinent question is whether the BNP's non-participation in the formation of the EC will affect the future politics of the country? Or will the BNP be able to capitalise on any political advantage by keeping itself away from the process of formation of this EC?
We all know that any mistake in politics can push a political party to the brink of history. Moreover, everyone should keep in mind that if a political party stays out of power for a long time, that party starts to become weak organisationally. The BNP is a political party that was formed in the hands of the army and has been run by hybrid leaders from different parties. Judging from that context, it can be stated that since the leaders of various political parties have led the BNP, their loyalty to the party is not very strong. Moreover, by not participating in the 2013 election, the BNP has made itself absolutely ridiculous in the country's political environment. At the same time, the conflict of leadership and the issue of managing the party from different places have divided the top leadership into various segments.
Moreover, a section of the party has turned away from the party due to lack of the party's clear stance on issues like war crimes and Jamaat. In the last eight years, this party has not been able to form an anti-government movement. Even they failed to mobilise people to come on the street in the campaign organised for the release of the party chairperson. In this situation, most analysts think that by not participating in the formation of the EC, they have made another great political mistake like that they committed in 2013.
For the sake of argument, even if it is assumed that the search committee will present those names to His Excellency, the President who will somehow be close to the present government or the AL. Meanwhile, we have also witnessed that the list of about 322 people from different sections has been submitted to the search committee. The search committee has every right to consider the names of other persons besides these names. The search committee has tried to ensure transparency by publishing the list of names. Since the BNP has not provided a list of their preferred names, how can they say that this EC will be controversial? If they had any political maturity, they could have given a list of specific names and presented it to the public. If no names from their list were later included in the list of names submitted to His Excellency the President, they could have said that the search committee had presented only the names of persons close to the AL. Since they did not provide a list of names, everyone thinks they have committed another mistake.
The question that everyone will ask the BNP is that since they did not participate in the EC formation process, they have no right to question the transparency of the process. They can indeed present their arguments through the media or in public. But I do not believe that they will benefit in any way by presenting those arguments. This is because, after the enactment of the EC Act, this process has become a constitutional one. No one has the power to deviate from the constitutional process.
There is no point in criticising the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners if they are appointed by His Excellency the President from the list of eligible persons submitted by the search committee. There is no denying that no matter with whom the Commission is formed, the BNP will try to identify them as people close to the government. But time will say how successful they will be in this process. By expressing negative comments about the EC formation without participating in the formation process, their image will be presented negatively to the newly formed EC. Therefore, it can certainly be said that the BNP has committed another political mistake.
The most important thing here is that from the very onset of the process of formation of the EC, if any political party wants to dispute the process without cooperating with it, then the people will not judge the issue from a very positive mindset. Besides, after the formation of the EC, if they could manage to conduct the forthcoming elections with impartiality, their acceptance to the nation will increase. Therefore people have started considering the BNP's negative stance in the EC formation as a ploy to disrupt the 2023 election.
We all must remember that one of the preconditions for institutionalising democracy is the existence of a strong EC. This is because the government changes in a democratic system through the electoral process, which the EC conducts. No matter how wrong the BNP is, we expect the search committee to present a list of eligible persons to His Excellency the President. The President will appoint qualified and impartial persons to the EC from this list. This EC will prove its credibility to the nation by holding fair and impartial elections in the coming days.
Democracy will take a stronger and more institutional form in the country through free and fair elections in 2023. Opposition political parties will criticise the government actions, which is very natural in the democratic process. However, criticising all government initiatives only for the sake of criticism cannot be the philosophy of any powerful political party. And no political party has the moral right to criticise the process of EC formation, keeping themselves detached from the process. I believe that the BNP as a political party has made another mistake without learning a lesson from the earlier mistakes. Therefore, I strongly believe they will not capitalise on any political advantage by keeping themselves away from the EC formation. Instead, the outcome will be worse for them.
The writer is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi