Bangladesh Opposition Fears Election Commission Law Favors Ruling Party

Ahammad Foyez
Courtesy: Benar News-

A bill passed by Bangladesh’s parliament on Thursday institutionalizes election-management practices that favor the incumbent government, setting the stage for the Awami League to remain in power through the next election, opposition parties and critics say.

It formalizes procedures used by current and past governments that empower the country’s president – almost always someone who resigns from the ruling party to take office – to appoint members of the election commission. The commission then manages all aspects of elections, including setting dates and announcing results.

In the past, the sitting president directly appointed commission members. Under the new law, he or she chooses them from a pool of candidates identified by a search committee.

Before the bill passed by a voice vote, MPs from BNP, the Jatiya Party, the Workers Party of Bangladesh and Gono Forum asked Law Minister Anisul Huq to seek comments from stake-holders including political parties and civil society groups before moving ahead with the legislation.

“The Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners Appointment Bill 2022 had been formulated in the spirit of Article 118 of the Constitution,” Huq said, sending it to the parliament speaker for a vote.

The bill will become law once signed by Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid or after seven days if he does not sign it.

Once passed, a six-member search committee would nominate 10 people age 50 or older who have at least 20 years’ experience in government and non-government sectors. The president will then name the chief election commissioner and not more than four election commissioners from the nominees.

Opposition MPs questioned the legality of the bill, noting that the constitution stipulates the president shall appoint the prime minister and the chief justice only. One lawmaker questioned whether the commission would be independent because Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be able to sign off on the members.

“The election commission would, in fact, be formed in accordance with the desire of the prime minister as the search committee will submit 10 names to the president and the president will send it to the prime minister while she will choose five names from among them,” Jatiya Party lawmaker Shameem Haider Patwary told fellow MPs.

Another opposition lawmaker questioned the process of presenting the bill.

“Making the law without discussion with the stakeholders was nothing but eyewash. The law will create a path to form the search committee and later the election commission in a non-transparent way,” said Rumeen Farhana, a BNP lawmaker.

Huq played down the concerns.

“Enacting of the law will not bypass Article 48 of the Constitution as the law has not imposed any obligation on the president to discuss with others his nominations for the search committee,” he said.

Differing views

Two former election commissioners offered differing views about the commission.

“The law is better than nothing. Though there are many controversies, the government did it after 50 years of independence,” M. Sakhawat Hossain told BenarNews. “It was expected that the government would include a provision in the law to make the names picked by the search committee public, but it did not happen.”

“It’s a very positive move,” M. Shah Newaz told BenarNews about the law. “It was very important to ensure a legal framework for the election commission formation.”

Election commissions have been formed every five years to oversee all polls including parliamentary elections and local government elections. The term of the most recent commission ends on Feb. 14.

The Awami League has won the last three general elections.

The next one is to be held in December 2023 or January 2024.