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     Volume 6 Issue 28 | July 20 , 2007 |

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The Long and Winding Road

Nader Rahman

Ready, set, go! The political scavenger hunt has officially started with the Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda announcing the much talked about road map to elections. There were a few surprises along with the facts we already took for granted. Firstly the date was tentatively set for the end of next year, no real surprise there and secondly the often-debated voter ID cards did not feature in the announcement, now that was interesting. After saying for months that the only reason we cannot hold parliamentary elections earlier is because the voter ID cards will not be ready in time, it is quite interesting that they stuck to the same time table and just left the voter ID cards out of it.

The time consuming problem of preparing ID cards and then distributing them to millions of voters has been replaced with a far more convenient voter list with photographs (one assumes they will be easy to take/use digital pictures). If that is to be the case then there seems to be no reason that the elections cannot be held earlier. They did not comment on that topic. Instead they stated that the elections could be held earlier than December 2008, that is if the voter list was completed earlier. While that may have been said, the indication seems to be that the preparation for voter list will take till at least October 2008 (their cut out date for the voter list) and then within two months they plan to hold the elections.

The time between the completed voter list (October 2008) and the proposed elections (December 2008) seems far too small. There should be a greater time lag between the two. But that leaves us in yet another conundrum, 18 months is already a long way off but if there is really to be a decent time lag between the voter list and the elections then the elections would be pushed back even further. With this in mind one has to come back to the fact that at least for upcoming elections the voter ID cards are out, the voter list with pictures should then be completed much earlier.

ATM Shamsul Huda also said "We want to hold dialogues with political parties on electoral reforms and other issues between September and November this year. Before that the political parties will have to complete their own reforms as we want to see a result" Now while that statement is very positive there are other matters that need to be sorted out before the political parties reform themselves. The government will have to lift the ban on indoor politics if the political parties are to discuss and implement serious reforms, until then real reform does not seem likely. But the comments made by Huda are definitely a step in the right direction, now all that needs to be done is for the government to back him up and lift the ban. He also took a hard line stance against hanky panky from the political parties by saying "Discussions with the political parties do not mean that we will implement all of their suggestions. We will do what we think is reasonable despite the talks with them." This was yet another highly appreciated move as the administration made no bones about who was boss, as it should have done many years ago.

The massive discrepancies between the numbers of voters in constituencies will also be dealt with as Huda announced plans to rearrange the constituencies. It was yet another welcome but long overdue announcement, but it did not solve the problem of a universal ceiling on campaign spending. Currently there is no ceiling on campaign spending because of the inequalities of size between the constituencies and that has been a major problem. The election commission should have come up with a rough estimate of the size of the soon to be rearranged constituencies and then based on that announced a ceiling on campaign spending, including a review process of how it will be monitored.

Finally the election commission also decided to hold upazila parishad elections, for the first time in more than 17 years. After H.M. Ershad introduced the system in 1985 it proved to be quite success, that was until he was ousted in 1990. Since then all three democratically elected governments have stalled in holding the elections, with the first BNP led government even trying to dissolve the system, only to accept it again after a high court ruling.

While the words emanating from the election commission all seem positive, the meanings attached to those words are not all that rosy. The rearranging of constituencies, the proposed dialogue with the political parties and the holding of upazila parishad elections are all positive steps in the right direction. Yet some major issues fell by the wayside, the ceiling for campaign spending, the length of time needed to prepare a voter list with pictures (not even the voter ID cards) and finally the fact that the elections are agonisingly far away. They said all the safe things needed at the time, but at the end of the day their much-hyped road map was a bit of a let down. It was essentially a timetable, and a timetable only says when things will happen, but now how they will be put into effect. That was where they let things slip, they took their time and only told us when, but not how. The last number one single The Beatles had was the “The long and winding road”, and most would say it led quite directly to their break up. This time around we have been put on one ourselves and it supposedly leads to our salvation.


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