Bring all parties to next elections, civil society members ask EC

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Members of civil society on Monday asked the election commission to earn public confidence and take necessary measures to bring all political parties to the general elections slated for early 2019.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by the election commission at its secretariat in Agargaon of the capital, the civil society members further said the commission should ensure scope of deploying military troops during the elections.

They also asked the commission to restore the provision of no-vote as an option to show no confidence in candidates in the ballot papers.

The commission sat for the dialogue with some members of the civil society around 11:00am and the proposals were tabled there.

Speaking to newsmen, Centre for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya said they touched on a number of important issues, including deployment of the army and reorganising the election system.

He said the main crisis of the election commission is that it lacks people’s confidence. “It must be apparent that the EC can play a strong and independent role.”

He underscored the need for ensuring participation of all political parties.

Debapriya said the civil society members did not accept the EC’s claim that it has nothing to do to ensure a level playing field before the election schedule is announced.

“It [EC] has many things to do [in this regard] and we’ve put forth a set of recommendations in this connection, including enacting new laws apart from bringing necessary changes to the existing electoral laws.”

He said there was “extensive consensus” on some issues. They are: 1) restoration of no-vote provision; 2) keeping scope of military troops deployment; 3) no use of religion in electioneering; and 4) strong monitoring the use of money and financing the electioneering.

When his attention was drawn to the debate over poll-time government, Debapriya said the issue came up for discussion repeatedly in the dialogue and they said that the poll-time government should not be able to carry out any duties other than playing a role of a caretaker government no matter whatever the political framework of it would be.

Professor Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University said, “Why can’t the army be deployed during the election when they can be used to build filling stations or roads? We have to ensure a congenial environment so that nobody feels scared to come to the polling station. The candidates and the polling agents have to feel safe.”

He added that there should be the provision to cast ‘no’ votes. “It’s a practice all over the world. We should also ensure that no one gets elected uncontested.”

He insisted that all members of the civil society there broadly emphasised that the elections should be participated by all parties concerned.

“All of the participants said all the political parties must be brought to the elections and there was no disagreement over that,” Asif Nazrul said.

Dwelling on the election uncontested, Asif Nazrul said, “All have agreed, even if tacitly, that there should be no more scope for the election of people’s representatives uncontested in Bangladesh.”

Dhaka University teacher Tasnim Arifa Siddiqui said the election commission must work on reflecting people’s views,. “The EC may face obstacles while upholding people’s views. The people will like it if it works to protect the people’s voting rights,” she added.

The EC had invited 59 noted citizens to take part in the dialogue, but 30 attended the session and some of those who did not turn up at the dialogue informed the commission about their inability to join.

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