The government move to enact a law to form the Election Commission (EC) without the opinion and evaluation of other stakeholders has faced criticism from the opposition political parties.
Ruling Awami League's major political rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has trashed the proposed law saying it will not yield any positive outcome as the party thinks it will only protect the interests of the ruling party.
The Bangladesh Socialist Party and the Communist Party of Bangladesh also have expressed similar concerns. On the other hand, the Jatiya Party (JaPa), main opposition in the parliament, has welcomed the government initiative to enact the law but raised questions about the provision for the search committee.
While addressing a press briefing on Tuesday, a day after the government approved the draft law on EC formation, BNP Standing Committee member Nazrul Islam Khan termed the proposed law as "the same old rotten system".
"What was thus far being done in an administrative manner will now take place legally. That is why we are calling it 'old wine in a new bottle'," he said.
Explaining the reasons behind their disappointment over the draft law, the BNP leader said as per the provision of the draft law no one can be an EC member without having a long experience in government service. "This means no one from civil society or any educationist and jurist can be its member. Nowhere in the world will you find this kind of restriction."
He said the EC is going to be formed with only government officials or those who have a habit of obeying government orders throughout their lifetime and such an EC will not yield any positive outcome.
The veteran BNP leader also said that his party will not take part in polls under the incumbent government and any EC formed by it.
Although the constitution of Bangladesh stipulates that the EC should be formed through a law, it has not been done even in 50 years after the country's independence.
Finally, in a major breakthrough, the Cabinet on Monday approved the draft of the "Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner Appointment Act" to have a law in this regard as per the constitution.
As per the proposed law, a search committee will be formed taking approval from the President over the constitution of the Election Commission and the search committee will recommend the names of suitable candidates before the president to appoint the CEC and other election commissioners.
The move came just one month before the expiry of the five-year tenure of the incumbent Election Commission, led by CEC KM Nurul Huda, as it is going to complete its five years in office in mid-February.
Therefore, in order to restructure the EC, President Abdul Hamid held dialogues with the registered political parties in phases from 20 December last to this Monday.
In the dialogues, most of the political parties proposed enacting a law to form the EC.
The ruling Awami League, which took part in the dialogue on the last day, also suggested that a law is needed to form the EC.
The BNP and a number of other parties, however, skipped the dialogue with the president.
BNP leader Nazrul said neither the political parties that participated in the dialogues nor the president have any power regarding the EC formation, which is why such dialogues do not yield any outcome.
Meanwhile, the Jatiya Party (JaPa), the main opposition party in the Parliament, has also expressed astonishment over the provision for a search committee in the proposed law.
JaPa General Secretary Md Mujibul Haque told TBS, "We have not yet received the draft. But, we have heard that it has a provision for the search committee. We also have questions about it. We want that the law is in no way in conflict with the constitution and that qualified election commissioners are appointed under the law."
He, however, welcomed the government's initiative to enact the law. "We demand that necessary steps be taken to pass the law during the current session [of the parliament]."
There is dissatisfaction with the law even among the political parties that did not take part in the President's dialogue. Their views were not evaluated and the dialogue was dismissed as meaningless. But they also demanded the law.
Like the BNP, other political parties that did not take part in the dialogues with the president on the pretext that their opinions are not evaluated, also have expressed dissatisfaction with the draft law.
Bangladesh Socialist Party (Basod) General Secretary Khalequzzaman alleged that the proposed law is not aimed at forming the EC, instead it is aimed at forming the search committee.
"Our demand was that discussions be held with all stakeholders and experts before enacting this law. Had that been done, the hopes and aspirations of the people would have been reflected, various inconsistencies would have come to the fore. But that is not the case. Therefore, this law will not bring any changes."
He said that this law is actually a law to give legitimacy to the search committee. "It will not protect the rights of the people…. It is a law to legitimise the irregularities of the ruling party. It will only intensify the suspicion among the people instead of ensuring transparency."
"The law has not been enacted over the past 50 years. No one in power during this period has enacted the law in fear of losing the power. But the Awami League suddenly changed – this is not believable."
He said people have seen the recruitment process of the past two ECs during the Awami League regime and that experience is not pleasant.
"Earlier when we talked about making the law and wanted to discuss this, they said there was no time. What has happened this time that they have taken the initiative to pass the law in a hurry?"
Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) told TBS that in the proposed law there is nothing to be happy about. This is because, he said, the law is going to be enacted according to the will of the ruling party.
"Such a law should be based on dialogues with all people and political parties. But that is not happening. So, nothing good can be expected from it," he added.