Krishna Kumar Saha & Md Moin Uddin Erfan
Although the constitution of Bangladesh has directed the formation of the permanent Election Commission (EC) through specific provisions, it has not been done even in 50 years of the country's independence. Finally, in the very past,the Bangladesh government enacted a law for the first time in the country's history entitled 'Appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Act, 2022' to form the EC, and based on the recommendation of the six members search committee formed by the government, the EC has been formed headed by government's one of the former senior secretaries.
General people and experts believe that it is possible to hold free and fair elections in the country only through a neutral EC consisting of skilled and qualified members. That is why people think that a new EC has been formed with competent, acceptable, and impartial people through a search committee. In this way, the citizens of the country will be able to exercise their voting rights. However, without restoring the confidence of the people towards the vote is a big challenge for the newly formed EC. Because a kind of distrust of the common people towards the vote and election has been created in the past couple of years. That is why the first task of the newly formed EC will be to restore the confidence of the people.
The 3rdComilla City Corporation election is going to be held on 15thJune 2022. The total number of voters in the election is almost 2.3 lac. Of these, one lakh 18 thousand 92 are female voters, and one lakh 12 thousand 628 are male voters. Besides, there are two transgender voters. Voting will be held in 105 centres in 27 wards. Nominations will be verified and selected on May 19 at Comilla District Shilpakala Academy, and May 26 is the last day for withdrawal of nominations. Symbols will be allotted on May 27 at Shilpakala Academy.
This is the first significant election under the recently formed new EC. Cumilla City Corporation is set to go to the polls three and a half months after the new EC was sworn in. Due to this, the election of Cumilla City Corporation is significant for the present EC. Because this EC has been formed for the purpose of a fair and neutral election after two consecutive so-called failed EC. Cumilla City Corporation election will set a standard and milestone for the current EC to restore public confidence in the vote and ensure fair and impartial elections. The EC is working to make the Cumilla City Corporation election smooth. The BGB has already been deployed in the city a month before the polls to ensure a fair election and provide extra security. An executive magistrate will be in charge of the BGB platoon. They will work to prevent any untoward incident. A significant number of other security forces members have also been deployed at every important place to prevent any disturbance in the run-up to the elections.
Cumilla municipality was formed in the mid-1890s, and the city has remained a municipality for more than 125 years, although the population has been increasing over time. An administrative resolution issued by the Cumilla district administration was passed on 20 August 2009. At a Ministry of Local Government meeting on 4 March 2011, it was announced that at least four of the densely populated municipalities would be transformed into city corporations, as Cumilla originally suggested. An administrative move by the contestants was taken on June 23, 2011, as a final step in dissolving the Cumilla Municipality and introducing an administrative body as a city corporation. Subsequently, on 10 July 2011, a ministry gazette named Comilla Municipality the new Cumilla City Corporation. So far, Cumilla City Corporation elections have been held twice, in 2012 and 2017.
Various unpleasant incidents also took place in the country, as seen in the election. Various disturbances and unpleasant incidents have already taken place in Cumilla, cantering on national elections, city corporation elections, Upazila, and Union Parishad elections. The main challenges in different elections in Cumilla are violations of the election code of conduct, clashes between different parties, aspiring candidate supporters, killings, use of indigenous weapons, attacks during campaigns, party quarrels, burning and tearing down of banners or posters of the election campaign, vandalism of EVMs, and beatings of presiding officers.
Authorities have already deployed law enforcement to deal with various challenges and threats. Even then, law enforcement needs to be strict to ensure fair elections, deal with challenges or threats, and maintain communal harmony in the area. The overall security of the constituency must be ensured, and a level playing field must be prepared to control illegal intruders and elections. The administration needs to be as challenging as it needs to be to make the elections fair, and if necessary, it must take action against those in charge. External access must be controlled during the election without the voter and the person in charge. Cumilla also witnessed the use of illegal weapons and disturbances by outsiders during the elections. Strict action must be taken by gathering information on illegal armed groups and rioters through intelligence agencies.
The uncertainty remains as the one major political party has already boycotted the election under the current regime and the EC, and we didn't see any significant attempt by the commission to bring those parties to the discussion table and hear them out. So there remains the potential risk of losing credibility. In addition, the election is set by the EC but conducted by the field administration, and in the past, we haven't seen any conspicuous punishment for those who have broken the code of conduct during the election from the field administration. Without clear answers to those mentioned above, two different issues, the question of the election's credibility always remains.
Wehope and think the Cumilla City Corporation election will be free, fair, and peaceful because the EC has taken action to conduct the City Corporation election peacefully, and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and police were deployed in the field a month ago to strengthen the security arrangements. However, in this case, the BGB and the police should be given the opportunity to perform their duties properly without any interference. Special security measures need to be strengthened by identifying various important and risky places. Moreover, with the goodwill of the EC and the cooperation of the concerned department, it is possible to conduct the Cumilla City Corporation election free of any kind of misconduct. The Election Commission can create an example so that all the political parties take part in the election under the current commission in the future elections.
Krishna Kumar Saha is Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration, Comilla University and Md Moin Uddin Erfan is a student of the Department of Public Administration at Comilla University.