Analysis of RPO
Shortcomings in the political party registration process
Md. Abdul Alim
In 2008, political party registration in Bangladesh was made mandatory through the revision of The Representation of People Order, 1972 (RPO). The law has included a set of criteria for registration and before the election 38 political parties were registered for the first time in the history in Bangladesh. Certainly it was a good initiative to regulate the political parties. As maiden step to regulate the parties, the criteria were also found okay with all the stakeholders including the political parties. A closer review of the terms and conditions for registration has found some shortcomings which have been described below.
The first criteria described in Article 90(1)(a)(i) of the law tells that if a party 'secured at least one seat with its electoral symbol in any parliamentary election held since the independence of Bangladesh', is eligible to be registered. Some 18 parties have been registered under this condition. The question is if a party secured one seat in 1973 parliamentary election and later it never gets any seat; how viable is to keep it register which does not have any parliamentary performance. As 2008 version of the RPO is the first initiative for registering political parties, an opportunity was given to get registration to the small parties. But if the party does not get any seat in a series of parliamentary election or performs very poorly such as gets less than 1-2% vote, should we keep it registered? The RPO does not have any mention on this. Same is true for Article 90(1)(a)(ii) which tells that a party could be registered if it 'secured five percent of total votes cast in the constituencies in which its candidates took part in any of the aforesaid parliamentary elections.'
Among the 38 registered parties took part in the 9th parliamentary election, 25 political parties that fielded 716 candidates and bagged only 2.38 percent of the total votes. Six of them got less than 0.01% votes, three got 0.01%, three got 0.02% and three others received only 0.03% votes. In order to be a candidate in the election, an independent candidate has to submit a list of signatures of 1% electors of the concerned constituency. So the law has made discrimination between independent candidates and the candidates form the political parties received less than 1% votes.
There is huge scope to violate the third criteria, described in Article 90B(1)(a)(iii) of the RPO. According to this criteria, a political party can be registered if it establishes a functional central office with a central committee and district offices in at least one-third administrative districts and offices in at least 100 Upazila or Metropolitan Thanas. Assume, during the time of registration, a party met this criterion and get registered with Election Commission. Later, it is found that the party does not have such number of local offices at grass-root level. What will happen? The RPO does not have any mention on this. Moreover, the law does not have any provision to verify the numbers of party offices in the grass-root levels. Furthermore, the law wants to ensure the functionality of the committees, but it does not have any definition of 'functionality'. So how can we understand the committees of the parties are functional?
Article 90B(1)(b)(i) of the RPO describes that a party registered with BEC, in its constitution, have to make the provision to elect the members of the committees at all levels including members of the central committee. After the 9th parliamentary election, we have observed a number of councils of various political parties. Recently we have observed the councils of Jatiyo Sheshasebok League and Jobu League and we all know how these committees have been formed. RPO does not have any mention about the definition of election of the committee members. Moreover, if the parties violate this condition, no punishment provision is made.
Article 90B(1)(b)(ii) has told the parties 'to fix the goal of reserving at least 33% of all committee positions for women including the central committee and successively achieving this goal by the year 2020'. The questions are: will BEC assess this after 2020? Is there be any assessment to see the development before 2020? If a party shall not be able to ensure 33% women in all their committees by 2020 what will happen? Answers of none of these questions are mentioned in the law.
Another vital condition for a registered party (Article 90B(1)(b)(iii)) is that it could not form 'any organization or body as its affiliated or associated body consisting to the teachers or students of any educational institution or the employees or labourers of any financial, commercial or industrial institution or establishment or the members of any other profession'. There are Chatra League, Srameek League, Jatyotabdi Chatra Dal, Srameek Dal etc and parties strategically treat them unaffiliated bodies. But don't we know who are Chatra League and who are Chatra Dal? Recently I have seen a poster where president of Chatra Dal was demanded to release from the jail. The poster contained the photograph of Ziaur Rahman, Khaleda Zia and Tarek Rahman. The question is: can an unaffiliated body use the photos of party leaders? Can the leaders be the patron or chief patron of the unaffiliated bodies? No such kind of terms and condition is found in the RPO or what would be the relationship between the party and its unaffiliated bodies has not been described in the RPO.
Certainly the latest version of the RPO is a good start. In order to keep the momentum and to ensure governance in the electoral process the followings could be included in the RPO. (1) A provision could be included in the RPO that registered parties have to submit yearly report to the BEC stating the detail information about (a) grass-root offices at the district and upazila/thana level, (b) functionality of those offices, (c) election process of the committees at all levels including election of the associated bodies'; (2) Make a provision that parties have to submit a guideline of election procedure of committee members; (3) Registration of parties which win less than 1% votes in 3 consecutive elections could be cancelled. (4) A monitoring mechanism by the local election offices could be introduced and CSOs could be a part of monitoring; (5) Registration of parties which violate all the registration terms and condition could be canceled; (6) BEC could promulgate a regulation describing the relationship between the party and its associated bodies; (7) A separate wing in the BEC could be established to deal registration issues.
The writer is a former head of the Election Project, UNDP Bangladesh, presently perusing for PhD in the field of electoral governance..