Legal reform essential for inclusive polls: TIB

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Dhaka, Sept 15: The Transparency International Bangladesh on Thursday suggested that the authorities concerned, including the Election Commission, should carry out an extensive reform of electoral laws so that a healthy election environment and a level-playing field for all political parties are ensured.

‘Ensuring a participatory general election is the key challenge for the Election Commission while providing a level-playing field is a matter of crucial concern,’ TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said at a virtual press conference marking International Day of Democracy, being observed today this year with the theme of ‘importance of media freedom to democracy, peace, and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals’.

Iftekharuzzaman told the press conference titled ‘Inclusive Elections: Challenges of Democratic and Good Governance’ that some legal reforms were needed to face these challenges in ensuring democratic practices in Bangladesh while the role of the EC was crucial in the next national election.

A level-playing field is often thwarted by actions of ministers and lawmakers who take part in polls while in power, he observed.

As a result of unfair interferences from people in power, law enforcers come under pressure to oblige, he said, adding that this makes it impossible to ensure a level-playing field during elections.

‘If any major political parties do not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, its acceptance will be in question,’ he said.

He also viewed that an outline of the government role during the election should be finalised.

‘Whatever the name of the election-time government, it must be free from conflict of interest and impartial. The practice of contesting elections by ministers and members of parliament being in office should be abolished,’ he added.

He urged the Election Commission to assess the risks of using electronic voting machines from the political, technical and economic viewpoints vis-à-vis the machine’s advantages.

The decision taken by the commission to use EVMs in the elections does not reflect the public opinion, the TIB chief said, adding that the action plan that it has prepared for the upcoming parliamentary elections should also be considered a draft and not final.

‘In arriving at a final action plan for the next general election, the commission should have discussions with the stakeholders on the draft plan,’ he said.

Saying that democracy around the entire world is facing challenges, Iftekharuzzaman said that an opportunity had appeared for democratic progress in Bangladesh.

‘But progress can’t be achieved if the various obstacles continue to remain. The past two parliamentary elections have established a monopoly of power for a single party. If any important political parties do not take part in the coming parliamentary elections, acceptance of the polls will remain in question,’ he said.

The roles of the administration and the law enforcement agencies in the past two parliamentary elections were not neutral, he pointed out.

TIB director for research and policy Mohammad Rafiqul Hasan presented the keynote at the press conference.