Amendment of RPO '08
Sunday, 24 August 2008

Some provisions of the draft are positive but some others are undemocratic

The amendment of Representation of the People Order Ordinance 2008 has been promulgated on August 19. The new law has incorporated in it some stringent new provisions triggering massive protests from political parties of the country. The Ordinance has made registration of political parties mandatory within two months, imposed ban on having front organizations and overseas units by political parties. People defaulting on loan repayments and people declared war criminals by a local or international court will not be eligible to run for elections. Besides under the new law a candidate will not be able to contest the national polls from more than three constituencies, and to contest the polls as an independent candidate one must have support in writing of one per cent of the voters of the constituency concerned. Candidates must be voters and must submit eight pieces of information on the nomination paper. A person, who has resigned or retired from service of the republic or any statutory public authority or the defence service, shall be disqualified for being a member of the Parliament unless a period of three years has elapsed since the date of his/her resignation or retirement.The EC has been empowered to cancel candidature for gross violation of electoral laws and for misconduct. According to the new law, a party, which has not won even a single seat in any parliamentary election since independence, or secured five percent of total votes in the constituencies contested, will not be qualified for registration. Registered parties will be allowed to forge electoral alliance but the successful candidates will be treated as members of the party the official poll symbol of which they used in the election race. The parties seeking to be registered must have committees in at least 10 districts and 50 upazilas. All committees must be elected, with a target of getting 33 percent women leaders in all committees by 2012. In addition to these conditions, every political party must have a constitution. The amended RPO is stringent and complicated for the political parties while the original RPO 1972 was simple and liberal under which one person could contest from any number of constituencies, a person could be candidate even without being a voter, political parties were not required to be registered and they could have front organizations. Besides, one could contest polls immediately after his resignation or retirement from government services and any body could contest as an independent candidate without fulfilling any condition. Moreover, there was no condition put on the forging of electoral alliance by the political parties. The EC had no power to cancel any candidate's candidature for alleged violation of electoral laws. It may be recalled that the council of advisers on 13 July approved in principle the Representation of People order Ordinance 2008 which sought to replace the Representation of People Order 1972. But before it was signed by the president political parties reacted sharply. In view of that the government ultimately stopped short of repealing the original law and amended it in the present form. But yet it has been unacceptable to political parties specially AL and BNP and left organizations. They have commented that the ordinance denied the fundamental and democratic rights guaranteed by the constitution. The parties said that the new law aims at putting restrictions on politics and regulating the political parties adding that the government has no authority to dictate what will be the character and functions of a political party. Political parties said the Provisions for 'no vote' system, compulsory registration for participation in polls, ban on having front organizations and overseas units by political parties were totally undemocratic and unacceptable. They are also opposing the provision relating to the submission of information about source of funds and bank accounts of political party. A candidate must not lose his party identity after his party joins any electoral alliance with other parties. Most of the parties argue that it will be difficult for them to change the party constitutions within two months if the emergency remains in place. Moreover, the provision relating to barring political parties from having front organizations is not acceptable to them. They alleged that the Emergency Government and the EC had agreed with the political parties on certain issues during the dialogue, but those have not been incorporated in the amended RPO. It goes without saying that some provisions of the draft ordinance are undoubtedly positive and constructive, but some others are undemocratic and too rigid and stringent for the political parties to implement. In view of this, the government should initiate fresh discussions with political parties on the RPO issue and make agreed amendment to the amended RPO to accommodate the views of the political parties..

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