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The sweeping electoral reforms brought by the Election Commission (EC) in an effort to have honest and competent candidates in elections, seem to have hit a major stumbling block as many 'qualified candidates' for the August 4 city corporation and municipality polls are accused in criminal cases.

Being aware of the situation, the EC yesterday at a meeting expressed its unhappiness about the situation, meeting sources said.

The current EC, which was reconstituted by the military backed caretaker government on February 4, 2007, brought sweeping electoral reforms to encourage honest and competent candidates in local government elections.

The EC also promulgated strict electoral rules and a code of conduct for electioneering, but those have apparently been unable to keep individuals with criminal notoriety at bay.

The caretaker government also promulgated new laws regarding formations and functions of city corporations and municipalities and on holding of elections to those, imposing some new restrictions on candidacies in the polls.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda, while announcing on June 20 the August 4 schedule for the polls to four city corporations and nine municipalities, also said the promulgated electoral rules had been formed in a way so honest and competent candidates may get a chance to contest in the polls.

But at yesterday's EC meeting the poll chief expressed his dissatisfaction noticing the questionable past of many candidates selected for the August 4 local government polls through the last two days' scrutiny of their applications, the sources said.

The other two election commissioners also share the feeling with their chief.

The August 4 polls are going to be the first ever elections under the current EC since its reconstitution, and it is considering those as test cases to be held under the state of emergency.

But soon after the announcement of the poll schedule, many grassroots level leaders of major political parties including many of the incumbent ward commissioners of the four city corporations, who allegedly had been involved in criminal activities over the last five years and had been on the run until recently, started to show up in their constituencies and filed applications for candidacies, some of whom have also been selected as candidates by returning officers of respective electoral areas.

The returning officers could not disqualify the questionable individuals since the accusations against them have not yet turned into convictions.

Contacted by The Daily Star yesterday, Returning Officer for Sylhet City Corporation Khondaker Mizanur Rahman said although there are allegations of criminal activities against a number of candidates there, and some of them are also in jail, until and unless they are convicted their applications for candidacy cannot be rejected.

Returning Officer for Barisal City Corporation Monirul Islam said he is also aware of applications from alleged criminals seeking candidacies in the city poll.

"Some applicants even spoke openly about the criminal activities of some prospective rivals during scrutiny, but that is not enough to reject the rivals' applications," he argued.

Talking to reporters on Sunday, Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain said there is no specific law preventing an individual from contesting in the polls on grounds of accusations, until the person is convicted.

Meanwhile, the EC yesterday issued a circular asking the returning officers to prepare panels of polling officials, who will man the polling centres on the polling day.

The circular instructs the returning officers to have the panels ready and to inform the EC Secretariat about those by July 20.

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