Thursday, July 24, 2008

Improper law enforcement, questionable local government polls

NIRMAL L. GOMES

IT IS observed that a wide-ranging people at home and abroad, and also world leaders are keen regarding the present army backed caretaker government (CTG) of Bangladesh effort to restore democracy through holding elections. The crucial initiatives taken by the present government to wipe corruptions from the country, justice of the corrupt politicians, businessmen, individuals, and organizations, maintaining relationship with political groups, price control of essentials, improve foreign relations, justice for detainees, holding free, fair and neutral ensuing local government, upazila, general elections. To hold the local government election is one of course the first challenging initiative and widely discussed at home and abroad.

Earlier the CTG and Election Commission (EC) have published their amended electoral rules for the local government polls. The electoral rules is apparently supportive of electing honest, dedicated, patriot, knowledgeable, and skilled candidates. In the beginning of the process the government announced that seven electoral laws would be the guideline for candidates submitting nomination. The nomination forms have to filled properly. If the candidates submit forms with incorrect or wrong information which will be deemed incompatible with the electoral guidelines. Thus the nomination forms will be cancelled. The EC promises to maintain “zero tolerance” for all candidates as it will be their first test for holding credible polls.

By now various electronic and print media have reported that a number of alleged convicts and corrupted candidates have submitted their nominations for contesting for positions of mayors and city councillors. On July 13, a leading independent Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo reported that 16 mayoral candidates and validated by EC for the August 4 polls are accused for 34 criminal cases. Many of the councillors who have submitted their nominations and accepted by the district EC office face various charges including murder, extortion, and corruption. As Prothom Alo reported on July 20, that many of the candidates did not fill-up the nomination form correctly and many forms were incomplete, but the EC mysteriously remains silent. Though, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) expressed satisfaction with the overall compliance with the code of conduct of the candidates. However, CEC frustrates everybody to overlook the quality of candidates, as argued to the press. Till CEC expects to hold a neutral and accepted election polls in the local government elections as well upcoming upazila and general election. The CEC however, emphasized the importance of the implementation of the strict electoral rules.

It is not understood whether candidates could be disqualified from contesting polls those who have failed to fulfill the election guidelines, specially those who have conviction by a trial court for offences involving moral turpitude, or be allowed to contest in polls while candidate appeals against the verdict, pending in court. It shows that the EC has decided that a convicted person is eligible for contesting the election while the candidate’s appeal is pending in a court, but legal experts say that a convicted person becomes disqualified on conviction by a trial court. The Constitution in Article 66(2) (d) states: "A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of Parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release."

In my earlier article titled “Local government polls a challenge/an experiment for the EC” published in various print and news portals, it was stated “for last thirty six years that thousands of rules and laws the previous governments discussed and announced, but very few of rules and law properly implemented and acted by the government, law enforcement, and citizens. Many times laws have misused and that’s resulted of 1/11 in the nation.” If there are laws then it must be implemented and also law enforcement must abide by the rules. The EC should be more proactive to implement the electoral laws. According to the reports, outcomes are not positive for the EC. What is going to make a difference in the upcoming local government election polls if the laws do not work accurately? The way things are progressing in the upcoming local government polls nomination process is incomprehensible and raises questions. If the law enforcement hesitates to implement the written electoral laws which was circulated publicly, than who can challenge or dare to disobey? If the law enforcement disregards electoral rules or any laws, then the citizens would also take advantage to misuse other laws to achieve their objectives. Thus the EC will losses its credibility to hold free, fair, neutral and credible elections.

This issue has risen when the government reiterates commitment to hold fair, neutral, and accepted polls in upcoming election. The chief adviser and the army chief urged the people to apply their wisdom and fair judgment in electing competent and honest candidates in the upcoming polls. If the corrupt and alleged criminal’s are declared eligible by the EC to contest, what would be the moral judgment to exercise wisdom to elect those “rogue” candidates? The voters have limited choice to choose or reject the candidates. Whereas, the government have approved the nominations of alleged corrupt and criminals. Moreover as the election day is coming closer, doubts of holding fair, neutral, and accepted election is fading among the general people and expatriate Bangladeshis. There is a general perception that an attempt is being made by the alleged muscle-man and corrupt people to creep into the public stage through secured election process. As there is still time for the government to take necessary measures against those alleged “candidates” who have violated electoral rules should be disqualified for the local government election. People expects the government and EC will pass the test of August 4 polls, demonstrate their credentials to hold the upazila and general election with flying colours. #

Washington DC, July 20, 2008

Nirmal L. Gomes is a freelance journalist, international scholar, and graduate student in education, specialty with admin., curriculum, foundation, and policy studies in the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He could reached at: Gomes@cua.edu or Nirmalgomes@aol.com