Op-Ed

Nothing much expected from the dialogue process
Faruque Ahmed
02 Jan,2017

President Abdul Hamid last week started dialogue with political parties in a bid to set up a new Election Commission (EC) as the tenure of the present commission is set to expire in February 2017 which is only two months from now.


The task is highly complicated in a challenging political environment as the relations between the government and opposition are quite hostile to say the least and there exists a huge trust deficit between them. Sensible citizens are worried as to whether or not there is enough time left to hold an effective dialogue with all political parties, mainly with the opposition to address their concerns and set up a fairly acceptable election commission to hold the next parliamentary election.

Dialogue started too late

Holding dialogue with the leaders of government’s coalition partners who were elected on ruling party tickets instead of their own makes no sense. Such useless exercise would only be waste of time.

Observers, however, believe that the process should have started at least six months ago to complete an inclusive consultation. The major issue for holding such a dialogue is the absence of a law clearly suggesting the process of the formation of the election commission.

The constitution is silent on the issue and there is no provision through which the president can exercise his power to appoint such a commission with neutral persons for holding a free and fair, and credible election.

Under the constitutional provisions, president can appoint only the prime minister enjoying the majority support of house and a Chief Justice when the pozst fall vacant. For all other activities, the president only acts as per the suggestions of the prime minister.

Again, compliance of these suggestions is mandatory and not optional. The enactment of a law would provide a permanent structure of the commission and how the independence and neutrality of the commission and its members are to be ensured. In the absence of such a law, the EC, a constitutional body, becomes vulnerable to hold all election to the dictation of the executive branch of the government.

The present election commission has become highly politicized and lacks public trust in its ability to act independently and hold neutral polls based on whatever independence it is enjoying under the constitution. In fact, people no more wants to see any such commission at work again.

However, critics feel that the way the President began the late dialogue with political parties makes it clear that it would at best be an eye-wash and as the President will have to act within the constraints of time to set up a new EC. Besides, the compulsive rules of the constitutional provisions under which he has to operate makes it more difficult to do justice to his responsibility.
 
An exercise in futility?

The last parliamentary election in 2014 lacked credibility within and without and was unacceptable to the people because it was a totally flawed election. The major opposition BNP boycotted the election while more than half of the parliament’s total members (153 out of 300 MPs) belonging to the ruling party were elected unopposed. The questionable EC accepted it without any qualm. This is how any election under a party government takes place in a country like ours.

Lately, the Union Parishad Election early this year also saw massive rigging and marred with unspeakable violence and killings. Opposition backed candidates could hardly stand in the ground in the face of the government nominated candidates who had just snatched the results almost all over the country except in few places. The election commission without responding to numerous complaints against the ruling party candidates and their goons, quietly approved the results under government pressures.

It is generally feared that whatever reform proposals that BNP, Jatiya and other parties and civil society organisations have submitted or will submit to the President during the dialogue process for making the electoral system free, fair and foolproof is unlikely to have time to address. In the process, the President may become constrained to work on advice of the government, making the attempt meaningless.

Meanwhile the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU on December 20 has also called upon the government to appoint a strong and independent commission based on inclusive consultation with opposition after an adjourned hearing on the issue from September last. But it also appears to be passing unheeded in absence of enough time and lack of positive mindset of the government leaders to take such move.
 
Spill the beans

While the President after meeting with BNP leaders in Bangabhavan expressed the hope that their dialogue will end on a positive note, ruling party general secretary Mr Obaidul Qadir dismissed any such hope saying if BNP believes in this, it will get what it wants, it will be fooled.

BNP has called for a search committee to find suitable nominees on the EC and reportedly handed over 10 names to the President in case he finds them useful.

But the party general secretary’s outward dismissal of any compromise apparently sets the clock back. He is a powerful person and is in a position to influence the outcome of such dialogue.

If he rules out any accommodation to opposition views prior to whatever results emerges ultimately at the end, the President seems to be making a useless exercise. It is imperative that senior political leaders must be careful and guarded in using their language to help sustain the hope and sanctity of a major political effort being made by the President. Their own political image and sagacity is also involved in it. They are, of course free to strict to their decision at the end of such important and complicated political process.

Meanwhile, the government is now holding district council elections clearly breaking the basic election laws to make sure its leaders are elected to reduce crowding of nominations in next general election.