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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: 220
May 28, 2011

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Monitoring elections: The guiding principles

Sadrul Hasan Mazumder

Photo: AFP

In a democratic system elections play a vital role and in order, for the elections to be fair it is important to examine whether the voters could freely exercise their rights, adequately informed to do so, and have confidence that the electoral process will accurately reflect their choice. Impartial and effective management of election can not ensure a fair poll if the contesting candidates do not have the opportunity to conduct election campaign freely for popular support. The process must ensure that government machineries & resources, law enforcement agencies are acting impartially. Most importantly the judiciary must be free to perform impartially and effectively and the news media must enjoy the freedom to disseminate accurate information so that the voters can make an informed decision. The Citizen Group can act as watchdog over the political processes as well as media whether they provides access to all contestants and objective coverage of event of national and local importance.

Electoral process must me monitored in the context of the current debates and political transitions. Critically the attempt must help building public confidence in the electoral process. If the citizens do not have adequate information and freedom to choose the right candidate elections will not be truly meaningful. A 'level playing field' must be there where all the contesting candidates will have confidence that they can reach and win the support of the voters.

Participation of Citizen Group in the electoral process is central to public confidence. Recent development in the global electoral trends is the widespread acceptance of the contribution of non-partisan neutral election observers. In Bangladesh reports of the election monitoring group has been accepted by the international community and the political actors during the last two decades and has been cited in reference to the authenticity of the outcome of elations. Election monitoring by the impartial election observation groups has significant contributions in building public confidence in the electoral process which on the other hand has ensured citizens participation in governance system making the government more accountable. Citizen's engagement in monitoring elections has been recognized in the “Copenhagen Document of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe [CSCE]” and in the UN training series on “Human Rights and Elections” as effective to enhance public confidence in the electoral process.

Bangladesh Election Commission [BEC] has also recognized election monitoring by non-partisan citizen Group as an important tool to ensure fairness and enhance acceptance of the outcome of elections. BEC has finalized a “Guideline for Election Observers” limiting election monitoring being stationed at polling booth during the Election Day. The Guideline has created options for the domestic election monitoring groups to deploy mobile observers in a Team of five members who are allowed to visit the polling booth for a limited time [Article 7.4]. This has posed a serious challenge and limits the observers to monitor the entire process of the Election Day. Although observation of counting process were allowed with special permission of the Presiding Officer but due to limitation of number of observers to be deployed in a team it is not possible to observe the counting process in each of the polling centers. Along with others age limit for the observers and provision of issuing accreditation card for the observers centrally from the Election Commission brings serious challenge for the election monitoring agencies in Bangladesh. Where the Parallel Vote Tabulations has significantly recognized in other parts of the world, Bangladesh Election Commission should not restrict the observers group in monitoring election on stationary basis narrowing the scope for integrated election monitoring down.

Human Rights aspect of Election Monitoring has been found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, applicable to all member state as stated “Everyone has the right to take part in the governance of his [or her] country, directly or through freely chosen representatives ……the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent voting procedures”. In a society where fundamental rights of citizens are not maintained there remain little scope for holding a free and fair elections. Thus election monitoring also provide the degree of freedom of a society or a range of institutions are functioning in a country and level of respect for human rights in general and civil and political rights in particular. The historical perspective and the political context are the continuum where arrangements of free and fair election are feasible ensuring wide range of participation by its populace.

In harmonization of such critiques, Bangladesh Election Commission may reconsider to revise the qualification of an 'Observer' to a certain level that will really be able to contribute in the process of election monitoring. The election monitoring agencies however may think of establishing a permanent database of observers which will create the scope to scale up the quality of observation report, collecting and training such huge number of observers from across the country and finally to ease the process of getting accreditation from the election commission. The Election Commission can think of making this mandatory for the election monitoring groups which may be applauded by the international community who ultimately funding such endeavour.

Long Term Election Monitoring (LTEM) designed in a coordinated way provide a systematic basis to asses the characteristics of the entire election process in accordance with a neutral basis to evaluate the fairness of the recommended process. The result not only helps the winners of the election race but also can be referred or quoted by the defeating parties that may help reconsider the possible arrangement of re-election. LTEM enhance credibility of the election process and help building confidence among the general voters about the outcome of elections. LTEM comprises of pre and post election period also useful in judging the performance of the electoral administration and the political institution. More over non-partisan election monitoring contribute to a transparent and open election through ensuring increased participation of concerned citizens in the electoral process that helps promote other basic human rights such as the right to freedom of expression, movement, peaceful assembly and association. However the “Guideline for Election Observer” does not include criterion for Long Term Observers, duration of deployment, areas of observation and reporting protocols.

Monitoring election in a long-term basis through involving recognised competent Citizen Group helps creating a congenial atmosphere where the general voters get a sense of security to come out for voting during the Election Day. Pre-election monitoring activities are deemed essential therefore for maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and to ensure democratic outcomes. Long Term Election Monitors observe the conduct and activities of the local administration and the Law Enforcement Agencies and other officials engaged in election duty. This may help to assess whether the officials performed their duties properly and in an impartial manner. This also includes observation of EC decisions and those taken by the government, district and local authorities as they related to the election process.

Long Term Election Monitoring also include observation of the law and order situation prevailing in the country including incidents of violence, the general political environment and the extent to which the local political activists were involved in activities such as organized violence, coercion or intimidation.

Nomination process is another important phase which is being observed as it has been found that inter party and intra party conflicts rises to numerous violence intolerable to congenial democratic environment before an election. Long Term Election Monitors also try to monitor the election campaign events such as public meetings, processions, demonstrations and keep track of the number of election camps set up by each candidate number of microphones used by them at any given time their election expenses campaign strategy and other campaign related matters.

During the campaign period the Long Term Election Monitors also meet the election administrators, representatives of political parties, state administration, law enforcing agencies and the media. The Long Term Election Monitors are given some guidelines questions as a starter of their conversation with different categories of people. The purposes of these meetings are to find out the views about key events in the election calendar, campaign activities of different candidates their opinions about the rules and regulations governing elections and the way they were being implemented.

LTEM designed around gathering factual, well-documented information that can be objectively verified to analyze the situation, help adopting decision for creating a congenial atmosphere for voting. The findings coming out of the long term observation should be made public immediately so that Election Commission can take immediate and appropriate measure of handling any unwanted situation against the poll.

The writer is Development Activist.




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