Vol. 5 Num 1111 Mon. July 16, 2007  
Front Page

EC Unveils Election Roadmap
Voter list by Oct '08, poll by Dec
Parties to register by June, reform dialogue Sept-Nov this year

The Election Commission (EC) yesterday announced its comprehensive plan for holding the next election stipulating that a voter list with photographs will be ready by October 2008 and the parliamentary poll will definitely be held by December of the same year.

''Mid October of 2008 will be the latest for having the voter list ready. The election could be held even before December of that year if the voter list gets ready earlier," Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda told a crowded news briefing disclosing the commission's official roadmap for polls.

"I think the voter list will be ready before October 2008, and the election schedule will be declared anytime between October and December of the same year," said the CEC.

Accompanied by two other election commissioners, the top poll official also announced that the EC will start holding elections to different local government bodies from next January in the areas where the voter list will be ready.

The announcement of the election roadmap apparently dispelled the doubts and ditherings about the parliamentary election setting 2008 as an election year for the country.

Spelling out the timetables, the CEC also announced that the EC will hold dialogues with political parties on electoral reforms between September and November this year with an aim to complete the reforms by February next year.

"The ban on indoor politics must be lifted. We have decided on the matter after consulting with people of different levels. The government will issue a statement in a few days supporting the roadmap," the CEC said.

Political parties interested in contesting the next elections will have to register with the EC by next June, stipulates the roadmap, which was announced in the wake of demands raised for such a map from different quarters including the political parties, civil society and the donor agencies.

The roadmap charts timetables for the EC's internal reorganisation, electoral reforms, preparation of the electoral roll with photographs, and reformation of parliamentary constituencies.

Announcing the roadmap the CEC spelled out a massive task to be completed by the EC for holding a free, fair and credible parliamentary election seeking co-operation from all in implementing the map successfully.

The current EC was formed on February 4 following resignations of the erstwhile CEC Justice Aziz and four other election commissioners, who had failed to prepare a flawless voter list leading to a confrontational political situation over the ninth parliamentary polls about six months ago.

Since its formation the present EC led by Huda started chalking out a massive plan for electoral and structural reforms before going into holding the stalled ninth parliamentary election, which had been scheduled for January 22 earlier.

Amid growing demands for a timeframe for holding the stalled election, CEC Huda on April 5 announced that holding any election would not be possible in the next 18 months since that was the minimum required time for preparing a voter list with photographs and for completing the electoral reforms.

Following the CEC's announcement of the 18-month timeframe, Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed in an address to the nation declared that the election would be held before the year 2008 ends.

"To hold the parliamentary election according to the announced timeframe, the Election Commission has formed a massive plan for creating a congenial electoral atmosphere and for strengthening the electoral system," CEC Huda said.

Prior to unveiling the roadmap, the CEC explained in short the backgrounds to the present situation including the formation of the second caretaker government led by Fakhruddin Ahmed, and the declaration of the state of emergency.

At the briefing in EC Secretariat's conference room, other two election commissioners --- Muhammed Sohul Hussain and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain were also present, but they did not speak.

Apart from electoral law reforms, the EC will complete some internal reforms to strengthen itself before the election. The proposed reforms include ensuring independence of the EC Secretariat, resolving the issue of controversial 303 upazila election officers, determining recruitment rules for officers and employees of the EC Secretariat, designing the EC's own building, and strengthening its information technology wing.

The EC has a detailed plan for preparing the voter list with photographs across the country. It will kick off the task from Rajshahi next month.

The CEC yesterday said the plan for army style deployment of the workforce specifying the timetable for preparing the electoral rolls for each district will be disclosed later.

"The work of preparing the voter list will begin in full swing from Rajshahi with experiences gathered in Sreepur pilot project," the CEC said.

The EC will engage about 2 lakh enumerators who will fill up voter registration forms by collecting the particulars of prospective voters, while 1.50 lakh computer operators in 30,000 voter registration centres will input the data for the voter list with photographs.

"Under the supervision and direction of the Election Commission, the task will be completed with assistance from the Bangladesh Army, district and upazila administrations, and volunteers," Huda said.

The CEC also said they will soon issue an order to finish procuring required equipment as the bids received earlier for supplying those are currently being evaluated.

According to the plan, the task of enumeration and data entry across the country will be completed by next June. Simultaneously the EC will prepare itself for publishing a draft voter list and for bringing necessary corrections to it by August next year, which will begin in October this year. Printing and distribution of the corrected voter list will be completed between September and October of next year.

About preparing and issuing the national identity cards, the CEC said they will issue the cards after making corrections on the voter list.

"To expedite the task and to ensure accuracy, we will regularly monitor the process," he said.

"We want to hold dialogues with political parties on electoral reforms and other issues between September and November this year. Before that the political parties will have to complete their own reforms as we want to see a result," CEC Huda said.

"We will have to think of alternatives if the political parties are not ready to sit in dialogues with us," he said when asked, whether the political parties will be able to complete their own reforms within the timeframe.

He did not specify any alternative but said the political parties are getting two months time to complete their reforms.

The EC earlier planned to hold dialogues with the political parties, but could not do that due to a ban on indoor politics. Before announcing the draft proposal for reforms, the CEC at a meeting with the law adviser on April 4 asked the government to lift the ban on parlour politics allowing it to hold talks with the parties.

The EC however held talks with civil society personalities and senior journalists seeking their opinions on the proposed reforms.

"Consulting with the political parties, the proposal for electoral law reforms will be finalised," he said adding, "Discussions with the political parties do not mean that we will implement all of their suggestions. We will do what we think is reasonable despite the talks with them," the CEC added.

Asked how the EC will sit in dialogues with the parties from September if the ban on indoor politics remains, the CEC said the government will support the EC's roadmap and will attach importance to it. "The government may also issue a statement letting people know the details," he said.

"In the 2001 election, the parliamentary constituency of Dhaka-5 had a total of 6.33 lakh voters while Faridpur-5 had 1.54 lakh voters. Such inconsistencies cannot remain," the CEC said announcing a plan for rearranging the constituencies.

He also identified and disclosed ten constituencies that have the highest numbers of voters and another ten with the lowest numbers of voters.

The EC allocated six months time from next January to June to complete the rearrangement.

According to the Delimitation of Constituencies Ordinance 1976, the parliamentary constituencies are supposed to be demarcated following each census. "But the task was not carried out even after completing the census in 2001 as the census report was not available," the CEC said.

Electoral experts have been demanding for a long time, rearrangement of the constituencies for bringing a balance among them. They also observed that it will be unfair to fix a universal ceiling on campaign spending without brining a balance among the constituencies.

The CEC also announced that the EC will examine the existing 36,000 polling stations to determine whether those are located in right places.

"Examining the feasibility of transparent ballot boxes, the Election Commission thinks there is no need for introducing those," CEC Huda said terming the idea very costly and unsustainable for Bangladesh.

"But we did not take any decision. We will discuss the matter with the political parties as they have demanded it," he assured.

The CEC announces a road map for polls at a press briefing yesterday. PHOTO: STAR