Emergency has to go for Polls: CEC
Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Staff Correspondent

Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda on Sunday said the state of emergency should be lifted before the elections adding that he did not understand how polls could be held under emergency.

'I do not understand how the election can be held under a state of emergency, because the necessary scope for electioneering should be facilitated.

Emergency means, from what I understand from my experience as a magistrate, that ten people cannot hold an assembly. Emergency is more serious than the imposition of Section 144.

So emergency should be lifted. If it is not lifted, then how do you campaign? How do you address the voters, through the television? That is why we ask for the creation of an environment that will enable the people to move about freely and go for electioneering,' said the CEC at the dialogue with political parties.

On the first day of the second round of talks, three political parties — Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, Samyabadi Dal and Workers' Party of Bangladesh — held talks separately with the Election Commission.

Referring to his recent meeting with the chief adviser, the CEC said the EC had urged the caretaker government to create a congenial environment for elections. 'The government will decide how it will create a congenial atmosphere for polls, either by lifting emergency or relaxing it,' said Huda.

The CEC said the EC has also asked the interim government to gradually withdraw the ban on indoor politics outside Dhaka. 'Because when the time for registering the political parties comes, the parties will have to change their constitutions as per the commission's criteria for ensuring intra-party democracy. Holding council meetings of the parties will be needed for that, and also meetings of the district committees, which can only be done if the emergency is eased or lifted,' said the CEC.

The CEC made the statement when Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon, who led an eight-member delegation to the dialogue, alleged that the executive power of the EC was being hampered by not lifting the state of emergency in response to the EC's call. 'The law adviser is asserting that elections can be held under a state of emergency, while the CEC is saying the opposite…There are clear contradictions between the statements.

The caretaker government is obliged to help the CEC, but it is not doing that,' said Menon. 'Practising fair democracy and running the state is not possible while suppressing fundamental rights…Our demand is that the state of emergency should be lifted right now,' said Menon, adding that the elections could not or would not be held under the state of emergency.

Two political parties, out of the three participating on first day of the second round of talks, demanded announcement of a tentative date for holding the stalled ninth parliamentary elections. The two parties — Workers Party of Bangladesh and Samyabadi Dal — also asked the EC to mount pressure on the government to lift the emergency as soon as possible to create an election-friendly atmosphere in the country.

CEC Huda said announcing the date would help the parties to plan their electoral campaigns, but that would not be wise now. 'We are working as per our timetable, but we are also trying to do it [hold elections] earlier if possible,' he said.

Bikalpadhara Bangladesh and Samyabadi Dal said they wanted general elections in December while the Workers Party demanded polls before December.

Bikalpadhara secretary-general MA Mannan and Samyabadi Dal president Dilip Barua made their observations separately when the CEC wanted to know what their parties thought would be the most convenient time for holding elections if the voters' roll was finalised by October.

However, Workers Party and Samyabadi Dal also demanded announcement of a probable date for elections and lifting of the state of emergency immediately. Mannan told the EC that they would not mind if the polls were conducted in September or October. The CEC reminded them that September will be the month of fasting.

The EC sat with the three political parties to discuss the outcome of its first round of dialogue with the parties on the proposed electoral reforms. Election Commissioners M Sohul Hussain and M Sakhawat Hussain were also present at the dialogue.

All the three political parties demanded that the Election Commission should not hold polls to the local government bodies before the stalled parliamentary polls. In response the CEC said, 'I do not know why you are forbidding us to hold the local government elections. Are you afraid that the current rulers are interested to continue to be in power? I do not think so…You see, they are old and retired persons.

I think they have no intention to stay in power for a longer period.' About the Workers Party's demand not to delimit the parliamentary constituencies at the moment, the CEC said they were constitutionally bound to do so. About the Samyabadi Dal's and Workers Party's demand to bar the war criminals from contesting the elections, Huda said the matter was not under the EC's jurisdiction and it was not the EC's duty to try the war criminals.

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