Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  
Front Page

New chiefs of EC, army, air force in next quarter
Opposition watches closely who get the vital posts ahead of next polls

The Election Commission (EC) and the armed forces in the next quarter this year will see new appointments to four key posts that are to play vital roles in holding the next parliamentary elections under the caretaker government.

Speculations have been rife as to who would be the next chief election commissioner (CEC), election commissioner and the chiefs of staff of army and air force.

The tenure of the incumbent CEC M A Syed will expire on May 22 and that of Election Commissioner Safiur Rahman on June 24. In the armed forces, the tenure of army chief Lt Gen Hassan Mashhud Chowdhury will end on June 15 and air force chief Air Vice Marshal Fakhrul Azam on April 7.

Sources said government high-ups are looking for 'appropriate' people to fill the forthcoming key vacancies keeping the next general elections in mind, while the opposition is keeping a close watch on the whole affair.

Some names have already been floated in the administrative and political corridors, the sources said.

Meanwhile, thanks to the increase in the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, it seems settled that the immediate past Chief Justice KM Hasan will lead the next interim government. But the extension has given rise to some sharp political controversies. The mainstream opposition parties question the motive of the government decision, alleging it was to ensure that Justice Hasan becomes the chief adviser to the next caretaker government.

The opposition leaders claimed Justice Hasan is biased to the ruling BNP, as he once was involved in its politics. They have been demanding appointment of the interim government chief through a consensus to make him acceptable to all.

The five-year tenure of CEC Syed and EC Safiur Rahman will expire on May 22 and June 24.

A number of names have been heard on the grapevine as under consideration for the posts. They include former secretary Fazlur Rahman, Dr Akbar Ali Khan, former EC secretary Faizur Razzak, former home secretary Omar Faruk and a High Court judge.

The final selection will be made at the highest government level and the president will appoint the selected persons.

So far, only two CECs, Abu Hena and MA Syed, came from the civil bureaucracy and the rest were retired Supreme Court judges.

The mainstream opposition parties have been demanding that the government appoint the new CEC through a consensus of all political parties. But the government so far has overlooked the demand.

In the past, too, the government alone chose all the CECs, ignoring the opposition demands.

The tenure of two other election commissioners, M Munsef Ali and AK Mohammad Ali, will also end soon, in April next year, which means a new EC is going to conduct the next parliamentary elections likely to be held at end of 2006 or early 2007.

The three-year tenure of Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Hassan Mashhud Chowdhury ends in June.

Army sources said a number of major generals are in the race to clinch the top military job. They include Moeen U Ahmed, Abu Roshde Rokonuddawla, Fazle Elahi Akbar and Jamilud Din Ahmed.

A number of senior army officers also consider Maj Gen Jahangir Alam, now director general of the BDR, as a potential candidate for the post.

"It may also happen that the government will appoint a low-profile but well educated senior officer who is not in the race," a senior army officer told The Daily Star wishing anonymity.

Another option is also being considered, that is, to extend the term of the incumbent army chief by one year.

But, government defence policymakers said the possibility of an extension is very slender, as it may cause resentment and adverse reactions in the forces. Besides, it will not be possible to provide the incumbent chief with two extensions to enable him to carry on until the next general polls, sources pointed out.

They said the government high-ups are searching for a 'reliable' officer to head the army.

During the caretaker government, the president looks after the defence ministry and the army plays a vital role in conducting the polls.

It is significant that two former army chiefs, who retired in recent times, joined the two major political parties. Of them, General (Retd) Mustafizur Rahman contested the last parliamentary election with Awami League ticket and Lt Gen (Retd) Mahbubur Rahman was elected a BNP lawmaker.

A number of senior air force officers are lobbying to succeed the present air force chief, Fakhrul Azam, who is set to retire in April.

The role of air force is not that significant in domestic affairs including the elections. Only a few air force personnel are usually deployed along with other law enforcers during the polls to help maintain the law and order.

So, the appointment of a new air chief is not being seen as that important a matter.

Meanwhile, the government recently has appointed a new chief of staff of the navy.