Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nation should hold military Generals responsible for flouting election schedule, breach of constitution

SALEEM SAMAD

IN A a recent twist of political development, the higher court ruled on the holding of parliament election and has received double thumbs-up by pro-democracy activists. The court has categorically blamed the interim government and the election commission for breach of certain clauses of state constitution.

This was indeed yet another major setback for the four-star military Generals who have purportedly installed an interim government, which tantamount to violation of the principles of non-interference in state polity. Well the verdict was an insult to injuries already inflicted by international communities. Will star-studded Generals give any heed to the verdict?

The over-zealous military general’s in a conspiracy game aborted the scheduled elections to the ninth parliament in two weeks time when they grabbed power in mid-January last year. They kicked the caretaker government legitimately formed, banned freedom of assembly, fundamental rights by imposing emergency rules and of course throttled press freedom by blanket censorship, which still exists in another form.

The Generals, the de facto ruler of the state affairs did not hesitate to claim that they sponsor the interim government. The Chief of Army Lt. General Moeen Uddin Ahmed explained that the nation needed to be cleansed of evils of institutional corruption, criminalisation of politics, money laundering and organised crime, until then restoration of democracy would yield futile.

After more than a year effort to zero tolerance of all evils, the international watchdogs specially Belgium based International Crisis Group does not agree with the achievement the military Generals and the interim government claim.

In tragic episode of de facto military governance, those citizens who demanded restoration of democracy and to hold a credible election, the dreaded military security services harassed, intimidated and reprimanded scores and hounded hundreds, which includes among others are members of civil society, university teachers and journalists. Others do not dare to return home in fear of persecution.

Most pro-democracy activists and civil society in Bangladesh and expatriates do not believe that the military generals would be bothered about democratic institutions like the Supreme Court, which upholds the constitution has proven balance of scale of justice.

The High Court on May 22 says the Election Commission has violated the constitution by failing to hold elections in 90 days from the dissolution of parliament in October 2006. This ruling was in response to a public interest litigation filed by barrister Masud Reza Sobhan last January.

In an observation, the court however said the election planned for December in line with the EC roadmap was a "logical decision". It added that the court did not have an alternative to accepting the EC decision on holding polls in December, writes BDNews24.com.

Though chief adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, blue-eyed boy of the military is not authorized to announce an election schedule, it blames the Election Commission, which did not comply with its constitutional obligations, thus "it violated the constitution."

According to the constitution, the HC said, national elections must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of parliament (in October 2006). In addition the EC does not have the authority to overrule the constitution, as the commission does not have the power to extend the 90-day time limit set by the constitution.

It is the constitutional obligation of the commission to hold polls, which would enable the caretaker government to transfer power to an elected government. But the commission found other excuse to delay the election on the plea of preparing a non-controversial voters list and voters photo ID for all eligible voters. A gargantuan task indeed!

However the court took into cognisance that as chief adviser addressed the nation early May and announced the national polls would be held in third week of December.

On this matter the court asked the Election Commission to provide specific date by April 30th of holding the parliamentary election.

Following the verdict, the litigant Sobhan has rightly called on the chief election commissioner and other commissioners to resign for their failure as described by the court. The court verdict brings in front a national shame of the performance of the Election Commission and their loyalty has been exposed.

The commission performance has proved that it was not truly independent. The EC was supposed to accountable to the eligible voters according to rule of law, but instead paid more attention to the military installed government.

It seems that the Election Commission in a comment to media is not dithered by the verdict and said that it would not affect the commission's roles and responsibilities to hold the election planned in coming December.

Once again it was proven that the pro-democracy activists were consistent and speaking wisdom. Equally the issues raised by international watchdogs were similar tunes of the civil society, media and the international donor community.

Meanwhile to buy time, the military installed government is holding dialogue with political parties leaders. Those leaders walking to the living room of the Chief Adviser’s official residence to hold parleys are demanding similar request made to Election Commission to withdraw emergency rule as a condition to restoration of democracy. #

First published in E-Bangladesh.org, May 23, 2008 Saleem Samad — an Ashoka Fellow, is a journalist best known for his investigative reporting on military persecution in CHT and Jihadist militancy in Bangladesh. Currently living in exile in Canada for his articles in Time, Tehelka.com, and Daily Times. He specializes on intelligence, conflict, security, Islamic militancy in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh. He could be reached saleemsamad@hotmail.com