The Election Commission search committee finally passed the buck to the president to decide whether ten names to be proposed to him for the formation of a new Election Commission would be disclosed, allowing people to know about the prospective "angels" who will work to ensure the quality of elections largely harmed in recent years.
The logic the search committee cited for not disclosing the final list of candidates by themselves sounds hollow. Moreover, this decision contradicts the earlier action by the search committee.
Without any hesitation the search committee made a first list public containing more than 300 proposed names it had received from different political parties and individuals to select 10 of them for the president to appoint the chief election commissioner and four election commissioners.
The search committee's latest argument that it is not legally obliged to make the final list public is not legally invalid. But the need of the time is different because of the political reality on the ground. So it deserves some extraordinary measures like the one the search committee took earlier as the disclosure of the first list.
After it had disclosed the first list nobody questioned the legality of the action. In fact, there is little scope to raise any question as the EC formation law nowhere imposes any bar on disclosing the proposed names for the formation of the EC.
The disclosure, though incomplete, that came in response to a strong and unanimous demand by civil society personalities has been widely praised.
The list did not say anything about how many names the search committee received for the post of the chief election commissioner and who proposed their names. Inclusion of names of two former chief justices for the post of CEC was a surprise and those who proposed the names of course forgot the importance of the high office of the chief justice.
There is more. At least seven names were listed twice, showing incompetency of the government officials assigned to provide the search committee with secretarial support. Some names caused outcry on social media.
Yet, the other side of the story is noteworthy.
Proposing, though haphazardly, such a large number of names for five posts at the EC has created a public buzz about a new EC that would organise and conduct the next parliamentary election at the end of next year. And publication of the list, though partially by the search committee, was a praiseworthy move as previous two search committees formed in 2013 and 2017 did not do so. It was expected that the final list would also be disclosed.
But, the search committee on Sunday made it clear that it would not do so by itself passing the ball to the president's court, saying it will disclose names of the final candidates only if the president asks them to do so.
The latest decision disheartens many civil society personalities who joined the meetings with the search committee and forwarded various proposals including the one for making public the final list of candidates.
Take jurist Shahdeen Malik as an example. "Looking at the situation, it seems we should not have gone to this meeting [with the search committee]."
He further said the search committee started its work with much transparency contrasting with the last two search committees. But if the proposed nominations on the final list are not disclosed, its transparency will be questioned, he anticipates.
Former election commissioner Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said, "From the beginning, we disagree with the work method described in the EC formation law. There is no obligation for the search committee to disclose the final nominees as per the law. That is why the committee does not want to get into any hassle unnecessarily.
"Everybody knows how much power the president of our country has. So, there is no point in expecting that the president will reveal these names."
Here the all-important question is: Will the president ask the search committee to disclose the final list of the candidates? Or will his office, Bangabhaban, do it?
Take note that it is difficult for the president to decide on his own as he needs advice from the prime minister to act on any matters except appointment of the premier and the chief justice.
So, comments made by former election commissioner Sakhawat Hossain regarding publishing names by the president's office hold a strong ground.
If the search committee sticks to its decision and refrain from making the final list of candidates public, it will lose an opportunity to set a glaring example of good practice.
Knowing the prospective names for important offices beforehand is not a new idea.
Many democracies introduced a public hearing system by elected representatives to pick competent people with professional integrity for important offices of the government.
Needless to discuss the procedure in the USA or the UK for making appointments to important offices, practice in our close door neighbour Nepal can be noted.
A few years ago, Nepal introduced a constitutional council consisting of the prime minister, the chief justice, the speaker, leader of the opposition and some other high ups to nominate candidates for making appointments to different constitutional bodies like the ones of the EC.
The names nominated by the constitutional council for the appointments to constitutional bodies are sent to the parliamentary hearing committee that publicises the names urging people to file complaints against the nominees if they have any.
Here in Bangladesh, parliament has no role to play in making the appointments to the constitutional bodies allowing the executive chief to enjoy enormous powers in the absence of an effective check and balance.
There was a proposal drafted by the EC in 2007 that the search committee would send the list of final candidates to the parliament's business advisory committee for a parliamentary scrutiny before it is sent to the president for the appointment. But that proposal did not see the light.
One thing is common in almost every endeavour. When we try to do something better, we end up with a moderate outcome. Doing something excellent is beyond our grasp. Over the years, this has appeared to be one of the outstanding aspects of our national character.
The following lines are from a wild and optimistic imagination
The search committee has shortlisted some candidates who have good public image for their honesty and professionalism they demonstrated in their careers. The committee has approached them with the proposal for including their names in the final list to be sent to the president.
Some of them have primarily agreed to take the challenge of accomplishing the Herculean task to salvage the sinking election ship. But they are cautious given the prevailing unhealthy political culture of winning the elections by any means. So they want to be assured by the party in power that the new EC would be aided fully for holding a free and fair election.
Shakhawat Liton is the deputy executive editor at The Business Standard.