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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 2
January 13, 2007

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Transparency in the election process

Shadnaz Khan

Election is a vital part of democracy, which aims at finding the true reflection of the people's choice. It is not limited to what happens on the day of voting only. It is a process which covers an array of activities of different entities of the state and beyond which influences the ultimate outcome of the election. The issues of political corruption, electoral fraudulence, election monitoring, the involvement of external organisations in the election process, women's position in the political arena and sometimes geo-politics prove to be relevant while discussing transparency in the election process of a country. Odhikar along with European Public Law Centre (EPLC), ODPUP and BCCP organised a three daylong conference on 'Transparency in the Election Process' where these views were expressed. The conference took place from 9th to 11th January at the Spectra Convention Centre in Dhaka.

On the first day, the conference was moderated by Farhad Mazhar, advisor to Odhikar and participated by Mr. Justice Sultan Hossain Khan, Chairman of Anti-Corruption Commission, Dr. Stefan Frowein, ambassador and head of delegation of European Commission to Bangladesh, Dr Asif Nazrul, professor of Department of Law of Dhaka University and others.

In his speech, Justice Sultan Hossain Khan said that the election scheduled for January 22 should be held on the due date to form a parliament to make necessary amendments to our Constitution in order to hold another election which will be acceptable to all political parties. Dr. Stefan Frowein said the coming election must be participated by all political parties to be accepted nationally and internationally. Dr. Asif Nazrul discussed the legal elements for fraud prevention and made some recommendations in this regard. Major Gen (Rtd) Syed Md. Ibrahim said that there should be a strict provision for punishing the candidates accused of election fraud. Abed khan said that the president can solve the present crisis in a day if he wants. Munira Khan said that an independent Election Commission, its authority over budget and proper voters' list are pre-conditions for an impartial election.

On the second day of the conference, two working sessions were held. The first session entitled “The Fight Against Political Corruption” was chaired by Mr. Nurul Kabir, editor of the New Age and advisor to Odhikar. Ms. Tamara Tawaefi, an election expert (EPLC) and Mr. Farhad Mazhar, eminent columnist and an advisor to Odhikar presented two papers in this session. Ms. Tamara Tawaefi said that while taking initiatives to encourage women to participate in electoral process,the government should consider their cultural and religious sensitivity as well. According to Farhad Mazhar, the term 'corruption' from the perspective of people's movement has a different meaning from what the World bank and other international financial institutions are proposing in their fight against corruption. Farhad Mazhar said that when these international institutions show their concern over corruption they only focus on the public sector corruption and ignore the corruption of private or big multinational corporations, donors and multilateral or bilateral projects completely. According to him, their silence in these issues is part of their agenda for preserving the interest of the imperialist states. He concludes that the modern definition of corruption is an illusion and acts as an impediment towards our fight to have a real democracy. However, from the viewpoint of people's movement, all forms of corruption is bad and should be addressed accordingly. Mujahedul Islam Selim, secretary general, Communist Party of Bangladesh talked about criminalization and commercialization of politics. He said that nowadays the businessmen became politicians and politicians turned out to be businessmen and they jointly made politics a business. He also said that the basis of the economy of Bangladesh is the plundering of the resources of the people. According to him it is now a national task to unite honest and pro-people politicians for a strong people's movement to change the situation.

The second session entitled 'External Forces Involved in Democratic Elections' was chaired by Mr. Farid Hossain, Bureau Chief of Associated Press. Mr. Mikel Ochoa, an Election Expert (EPLC) presented a paper entitled 'External forces involved in elections in Democratic countries'. Mr. Tanvir Chowdhury, editor of News from Bangladesh presented another paper on 'The role of the Bangladeshi Diaspora in national elections'. Dr. Owen P. Lippert , country Director of NDI Bangladesh ,Mr. Shoeb Siddiqui ,Interim Country Director of Action Aid Bangladesh, Mr. Tarikul Ghani, an Election Expert,Mr. Abul Hasib Khan,Vice-Chair, FNB and Member Ex-Com, FORUM-ASIA Mr. Mosharaff Hossain, Country Representative of ADD spoke in this session. All the speakers agreed that Bangladeshi immigrants living abroad should have voting rights. Dr. Owen P. Lippert said that foreign observers come to observe elections in different countries to give some kind of legitimacy to these elections, which might help the flow of aid to come to those countries. He expressed his concerns over the present political situation in Bangladesh. However, he appreciated the efforts of civil society in election related issues. Mr. Shoeb Siddiqui, interim country director of Action Aid Bangladesh, said that external forces became more relevant in our election process because of the politics of interest. According to him, Bangladesh attracted the attention of the multinational corporations for its market potential and availability of natural resources. Donors and imperial countries who are serving the interest of the big corporations became more interested to interfere and influence our political affairs and election process so that their interests are preserved.

On the third day, Mr. Tarikul Ghani, an international election expert moderated the concluding session . Ms. Charlemagne Sophia Gomez, election expert (EPLC), Mr. Marco Sioli, election expert, (EPLC), Ms. Tamara Tawaefi, election expert (EPLC) Mr. Mikel Ochoa, election expert (EPLC),Shila Huq, representative of The Asia Foundation, Ms. Munira Khan, President of FEMA, Ms. Farida Akhtar, executive director of UBINIG and Dr. Zahurul Alam, director of EWG participated in this session and expressed their concern over the future of politics in Bangladesh. In the end, Ms. Despina Spanoudi, representative of EPLC and Mr. ASM Nasiruddin Elan, office in charge of Odhikar gave the vote of thanks.

The conference on 'Transparency in the Election Process' organised by Odhikar and its partners is a manifestation of the commitment of those organisations and networks who are working tirelessly for such an election process that would ensure the actual participation of the people especially the oppressed ones.

The author is a member of Odhikar.


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