The search committee, led by Justice Obaidul Hassan, is burning midnight oil to complete the task it has been given under a newly made law. For now the committee has until February 24 to recommend to the president the names of 10 individuals whom it think can competently run the next Election Commission whose main task will be to hold the next general election in a free, fair and inclusive manner. Since the next parliamentary election is scheduled for 2023 the new Chief Election Commissioner and other commissioners will have more than enough time to settle down and make the preparations well.
The search committee members, meanwhile, deserve appreciation for what they have done so far. They have agreed to spare their time to carry out their heavy responsibility in addition to their busy schedule in the offices they hold. The head of the committee is an Appellate Division justice, while the other members comprise a High court judge, the comptroller and auditor general, chairman of public service commission and a writer. In their search the right persons for the EC offices the committee has so far more than 300 names gathered through meet-the-distinguished individuals of the country, Some names have been suggested by the political parties and some others even proposed their own names since the process has been open to all public. Responding to suggestion from many of the opinion-givers the search committee has also published the names of the recommended persons on the website of the cabinet division that is coordinating its work. Some of the recommended people seemed to have been caught unaware as they said they had no idea who suggested their names and why. Their reaction means the proposers of the names did not contact them nor even take their prior approval. Some among the list have, however, been happy and shown interest in taking the EC responsibility provided they get it. The list may still not be complete as the search committee members can find names from outside it as they think so.
All eyes will now be set on February 24 unless the search committee needs more time to complete their job. Who the 10 names it is going to recommend to the president? The media, especially, will go all the way to find out who the 10 individuals are. But the committee has been generous in publishing the names of 322 people, it's not going to tell the nation about their choice of 10 individuals. Opinion is divided on this issue. To many the 10 names should be published too, along with the names of their original proposers. They wonder why this should be considered as classified information. Since they have opened the gate of transparency it should not stop only with the primary disclosure. The policy of disclosure should go all the way until the president finally picks the final five names. Some others do not favour making the names public on grounds that it will be embarrassing for those not chosen for the final list.
As the search committee works on sorting out the names the country's political parties are divided on what it is doing. While Awami League is basking in its success of enacting the Election Commission law for the first in country's 50 years of independence, its arch and bitter rival BNP has rejected it as a fuss. BNP is not only in this. Several left and Islamic parties have also stayed away from the entire even when the president held his now-futile dialogue with the political parties. Seven out of the 32 invited parties boycotted the dialogue terming it meaningless. Incidentally, the president began his nearly month-long dialogue with the Jatiya Party and wrapped it up with a meeting with the ruling Awami League whose 10-member team was led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her capacity as the president of the party. Those who boycotted the talks continued with their position even the search committee was formed. This has far reaching implication in the country's politics. Whoever are chosen for the CEC and commissioners finally by the president will face tremendous challenge of convincing the opposition parties of their credibility long before they test it in conduct of general election.
A free, fair and inclusive election is what the voters want. The next EC has to create an atmosphere that will allow the voters to cast their own ballots under the long-established democratic rule of "Amar vote ami debo, jake khusi take dibo." Allegations have been in plenty that voters in large numbers failed to exercise this fundamental right in the past two general elections, with the Awami League vehemently denying it. The just-expired EC, led by KM Nurul Huda, did not even bother to investigate the allegations of so-called Midnight Vote. He wanted evidence, which no one according to him provided.
The national aspiration is to see a truly independent election commission manned by people having a proven background of honesty and brave enough to perform without fear and favour. Will it be too much to expect? Will it be wrong to expect that even a party government in office during the election time be brave enough to stay away from any manipulation?
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