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Monday, July 14, 2008
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RPO Change Okayed

Option for 'no' vote made, party registration must

The council of advisers yesterday approved in principle the Representation of the People's Order (RPO) Ordinance 2008, okaying much sought electoral reforms including mandatory registration of political parties and an option for casting 'no' votes.

According to the new ordinance, a candidate in the parliamentary election may contest for a maximum of three seats instead of the five they were allowed earlier, and the contestants must submit their election expenditure statements and related bank account statements to the Election Commission (EC).

The advisory council gave its nod to the ordinance in a meeting with Chief Adviser (CA) Fakhruddin Ahmed in the chair.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, CA's Press Secretary Syed Fahim Munaim said, "The ordinance will come back to the cabinet for the final approval after being vetted by the law ministry."

The ordinance will be promulgated by the president through a gazette notification by the end of this month, he added.

Anyone contesting in more than three constituencies will be declared ineligible for candidacy all together, says the draft ordinance that came ahead of the parliamentary election scheduled for December this year.

There are also directives in the draft ordinance about democracy within political parties, electoral alliances, disqualifications for running in parliamentary polls, and about prohibitions on forming front organisations by political parties.

According to the draft law, voters will be allowed to cast 'no' votes if they do not find any of the contestants worthy of their votes. An election to a constituency will be cancelled if 'no' votes amount to 50 percent or more of the total votes cast, and a bi-election will be held there.

The draft ordinance fixes a new ceiling for election expenditure where a candidate will be allowed to spend a maximum of Tk 15 lakh for an electoral campaign. The amount was Tk 5 lakh before.

The expenditure ceiling for political parties having more than 200 candidates will be

Tk 4.50 crore. It will be Tk 3 crore for parties having 100 to 200 candidates, Tk 1.5 crore for parties with at least 100 candidates, and Tk 50 lakh for parties with less than 50 candidates. Violators of the provision will be fined Tk 10 lakh.

Prepared by the law ministry and the EC following dialogues between the commission and political parties and different professional groups, the draft of the ordinance has nine clauses and 114 sections.

A candidate must maintain an account of his or her electoral expenditure from the date of filing the nomination paper till the announcement of the election result. Submission of a false statement will be a punishable offence.

Contesting parties must maintain bank accounts in any of the banks of the country scheduled by the EC for election purposes and must submit account statements to the commission. Electoral donations of Tk 20,000 and more must be made in cheques. Any party violating the provision may face financial penalty of up to Tk 10,00,000.

All political parties will not be eligible for registration. To be eligible for registration, a party must win at least one parliamentary seat or must obtain 5 percent of the total votes cast in a constituency in any of the elections since 1971.

Parties having units or committees abroad will also not be eligible for registration. A party must have functional organisational units and offices in at least one third of the districts or in 100 upazilas to be eligible for registration, and must have at least 200 members in each upazila of each district.

Parties intending to be registered must declare in their constitutions that they do not have front organisations of students, teachers and workers.

To nurture democracy in parties, the draft stipulates that political parties must have written constitutions that do not contradict with the country's constitution. To be eligible for registration a party must declare that they will have 33 percent women members at every level of organisational committees by 2020.

Ward or upazila level leaders will make panels of candidates for the parliamentary election, and a parliamentary board will give nominations from among the panels, according to the draft ordinance.

If any independent lawmaker joins an unregistered political party, he or she will not be considered as a representative of that party in the parliament.

The security deposit for an individual to run in the parliamentary election will be

Tk 10,000 which will be forfeited if the candidate fails to secure one eighth of the vote cast, says the draft.

There will also be a number of provisions putting restrictions on election campaigns. Pasting campaign posters, bringing out electoral processions and holding rallies, and use of decorative lightings will be banned.

The ordinance says that a person sentenced to a minimum of two years in jail in criminal cases will not be eligible to contest in the next national poll. Those who already served their sentences will have to wait for five years since being released for being eligible to contest in a parliamentary election.

People sacked from government offices or forced to go on leave on charges of corruption, will have to wait five years since execution of their punishments to be eligible for contesting in the poll.

People who went into voluntary retirement or resigned from government jobs will be able to contest in the poll three years after the resignation or retirement.

"People defaulting on loan repayments within six months prior to the scheduled date for submitting nomination papers, will not be able to contest in parliamentary polls," said Fahim Munaim adding that any person declared a war criminal by a local or international court will be ineligible to run in the election.

Besides, an individual deemed mentally challenged by a court will be ineligible to compete in the polls and the same will apply to a person who has become a citizen of another country.

The Representation of the People's Order 1972 will be replaced by the new one after being promulgated.

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