Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal acknowledged the presence of "a crisis", emphasising the challenging situation the Election Commission is facing, as election experts advocate for a credible, free, fair, and inclusive election.
On Wednesday, at a workshop experts accused the EC of displaying bias. Additionally, they criticised the commission for its inability to garner the trust of political parties and the people's lack of faith in the electoral system.
In response to the criticism, CEC Habibul Awal said, "It has been alleged that the Election Commission exhibits a bias in favour of the government. This is not true. We are not such cowards."
Awal said, "We are in a challenging situation, dealing with various crises. However, it is the responsibility of politicians to address these issues. I have emphasised this point repeatedly. If our politicians do not create a conducive environment, conducting the election will be a challenging task. The necessary political will must emanate from the political sphere.
"We have consistently called for dialogues. Unfortunately, the prevailing political climate has made it difficult for parties to engage in meaningful discussions with each other. The Commission alone cannot resolve this problem."
In addition to election experts, the workshop titled "Twelfth National Parliament Elections: Expectations and Reality" also invited former bureaucrats and senior journalists.
Former election commissioner Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said, "Decisive action needs to be taken against individuals like the deputy commissioner of Jamalpur who openly advocated for bringing the Awami League to power. It is impossible to conduct a credible election with such individuals in key roles. The EC should be firm in its decisions in such cases."
He further emphasised that the EC should not be influenced by any political party and should focus on rectifying its past mistakes.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said, "Foreign countries are interfering in our election system. It is us who have called for their interference. Various countries in the world are keenly observing our elections. If we fail, we have to pay the price."
Former ambassador Md Humayun Kabir emphasised the importance of ensuring the participation of all political parties, facilitating a high voter turnout, and providing voters the opportunity to cast their ballots for their preferred candidates.
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed said the recommendations put forth during EC dialogues often go unimplemented.
He said, "While we assert the EC's authority, the practical reality is different. The crisis is so extensive that it would be unfair to lay all the blame on the EC. The judiciary also bears a role in facilitating a transition from this challenging environment."
Former secretary Abu Alam Md Shahid Khan said, "The prevailing reality is not in favour of the Election Commission. Achieving a successful election outcome is contingent on the government's willingness to support it."
Sohrab Hasan, joint editor of Prothom Alo, said, "The primary challenge lies in engaging everyone in the electoral process. Moreover, without a democratic environment, such elections lack significance."
Shyamal Dutta, editor of Bhorer Kagoj, criticised the frequent visits of ambassadors to the Election Commission and their recommendations.
'Govt commited to holding fair election'
During the workshop, CEC Habibul Awal expressed his confidence in the government's commitment to holding a fair election.
He said, "We have strong confidence that the government, including the prime minister, is earnestly advocating for a fair upcoming election. The government has never made such promises before. I would say I want to have confidence."
He further emphasised the need to maintain a clear distinction between the government and political parties, saying, "The government and political parties are distinct entities. The constitution does not recognise the term 'government party.' When a government assumes power, it represents all political parties, the entire population, and the entire nation."
Habibul Awal issued a warning that if the election were to be cancelled due to misconduct, the candidate responsible would be disqualified from participating in future elections.
He said, "There are instances of criminal elements and the use of force in the country, which at times leaves the presiding officer in a helpless position. However, it is important to note that we possess the authority to cancel an election in such cases."