Wednesday, February 7, 2007

ATM Shamsul Huda appointed new CEC

CEC pledges major electoral reforms

Newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), ATM Shamsul Huda yesterday said his first task would be devising an action plan for major electoral reforms in consultation with the political parties and other stakeholders. On the first day in office, he told reporters that he would make the Election Commission (EC) an institution in which every citizen can take pride and that the commission must restore public confidence in it by ensuring transparency in all its activities.

Earlier in the day, Huda, former water resources secretary, was sworn in as the CEC while Mohammad Sohul Hossain, another former bureaucrat, as election commissioner. Chief Justice Syed JR Mudassir Husain administered the oath at his Supreme Court chamber in a simple ceremony. The caretaker government on Sunday appointed the two as the CEC and election commissioner.

The new poll chief said he regards the new assignment as a big challenge. Avowing neutrality, he described himself as a man of strict discipline. He hinted at bringing about major changes in the electoral system before holding the ninth parliamentary election that was originally scheduled for January 22 but later cancelled. However he did not mention any time frame for the task ahead. The EC would soon sit in a dialogue with the political parties, civil society and others to seek their opinion about the electoral reforms. Besides, it will keep in contact with the caretaker government, as the EC cannot bring any legal reforms without help of the interim administration.

After taking oath at the Supreme Court building, he told reporters that he would introduce transparent ballot boxes and voter identity cards. Later, at his office he said the EC would not take any decision on its own regarding voter ID cards and the other reform issues. In an oblique reference to the stint of the immediate past EC, he said every stage in the electoral process from voter listing to counting the ballot papers has been rendered controversial. Talking to the reporters, the newly appointed election commissioner, Sohul Hossain, sought cooperation from all.

Controversial CEC Justice MA Aziz stepped down on January 21 while five other commissioners resigned en bloc on January 31, paving the way for reconstitution of the EC. Awami League (AL) yesterday welcomed the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and an election commissioner and hoped that the new officials will play a neutral role in holding a free and fair election. AL also urged the caretaker government as well as the Election Commission (EC) to change all politically appointed EC officials from EC Secretariat to upazila level to make it a powerful, neutral and independent body.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Acting CEC and four Commissioners resigns

The acting chief election commissioner (CEC) and four other commissioners finally resigned following the footstep of Justice MA Aziz, and clearing the way for reconstitution of the Election Commission (EC, which tops the interim government’s agenda. Former additional secretary to cabinet division, M Anisuzzaman Khan, is likely to be appointed as the new CEC while a former brigadier general and a former district judge are likely to be appointed as election commissioners.

Their resignation came 10 days after Justice MA Aziz resigned from the post of chief election commissioner without giving any reason. A few of the resigning election commissioners did not agree to admit their failure as election commissioners. They also refused to comment on their resignation, saying Bangabhaban will announce the EC overhaul in a statement. A Bangabhaban press release on Wednesday night confirmed that the president accepted the resignation letters of five commissioners. None of the resigning commissioners disclosed anything about the content of their discussion with the president at Bangabhaban.

The caretaker government will now appoint a new CEC and two election commissioners to recast the EC, which will initiate steps including preparation of a voter list for holding the ninth parliamentary election. The interim government will immediately appoint three election commissioners, including a CEC, to form a new Election Commission, adding that the names of the new commissioners have been finalised and that the new Election Commission will take steps to bring changes to the electoral laws.

President Iajuddin Ahmed had appointed all the election commissioners: Justice MA Aziz as CEC on May 23, 2005, Zakaria and Mahfuz on January 16, 2006, and Mansur on August 31 last year--all on advice of the then BNP-led government. He then suddenly appointed Modabbir and Saiful on November 27 last year, keeping in dark and annoying the then council of advisers.
With six election commissioners, the Aziz-led EC became the largest one ever in the history of Bangladesh, but it completely failed to build people's confidence in it for holding a free and fair election. It failed to conduct the ninth parliamentary elections scheduled for January 22 and formally cancelled the election in line with a decision of the present caretaker government.

The council of advisers to the immediate past caretaker government headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed faced tremendous difficulties in reconstituting the EC as neither Aziz nor SM Zakaria agreed to resign. The BNP-led four-party alliance was also rigid against the resignation of the two commissioners appointed by the BNP government. Law Adviser Mainul Hosein yesterday said the resignation of the five commissioners will end all problems the EC recast has been facing.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Political and Trade Union activities banned by Government under the Emergency Powers Ordinance 2007

The Government has banned political and trade union activities and restricted provocative news, including talk show, in print and electronic media under the Emergency Powers Rules 2007. The ban has been made effective from January 12, 2007 through a gazette notification on the Emergency Powers Rules 2007 under the Emergency Powers Ordinance 2007. The gazette notification was made public last night.

The government has restricted processions, demonstrations, hartals, strikes and lockouts across the country to ensure security of the state and people, and maintain discipline in public life and has also banned student-teacher politics and politics by government employees and professional bodies. In case of violation of the restrictions, the offenders will have to suffer a maximum of five years or a minimum of two years rigorous imprisonment along with fines. But rallies, processions and functions relating to religious, social and state affairs are exempted from the restrictions.

Under the notification, the government can ban any meeting, procession, siege, demonstration, speech, statement, any harmful news or information in the interest of government, state or public security and peace. The government can also restrict any publication or transmission of any anti-government news, editorial, post editorial, article, feature, cartoon, talk show or discussion in print or electronic media and any mass media, including the internet. Wall writing has also been banned as long as the state of emergency will remain in force. The government will be able to proscribe any newspaper, book, document, printing press or equipment of electronic media if any news or information is published or propagated violating the government order or restrictions.

The restriction has also been put on any provocative remarks or activities against the government and its programmes, drawing, cartoon or the effigy of an individual with ulterior political motive. The government will have the right to ask any individual to submit information or material to a person or authority designated by the rules for examining those. If any individual does not submit the information or the material or intentionally supply false and incorrect ones, the individual will have to suffer a maximum of five years or a minimum of two years' RI and fines. Those who will try to violate the rules and assist or provoke to violate the rules of the emergency will be considered as the violator.

If any violator of the rules is identified as statutory organisation or farm, director, owner, partner, manager, secretary or any other officer or agent will be considered as the violator unless he or she can prove that they have tried enough to refrain from violating the rules. Whatever the existing laws and rules contain, all offences under the emergency rules will be justified by speedy trial court, speedy trial tribunal, metropolitan magistrate and first class magistrate. The offences under this rule will be considered as cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.

If anyone resents any verdict of the courts, he or she can appeal to the proper court against the verdict within 30 days from the date of handing down the particular verdict. But the time to be spent to get the certified copy will be excluded from the 30-day period. On post, radio, telegram, telex, fax and telephone services, the rules of emergency said the government can empower officers and authorities to halt, delay any disbursement of messages or news.

In case of any serious offence, the government will have the right to transfer an under trial case at any stage to a speedy trial tribunal. But the trial must be held as per the provisions of the Speedy Trial Tribunal Act 2002. Investigation, trial and other related activities on the offences that cause law and order situation will be under the speedy trial court only. Any designated police official or any member of the law enforcement agencies will be able to enforce or take any necessary steps to implement any order under the emergency rules. Any individual can be brought to preventive detention under the Special Powers Act 1974 if deemed that the individual might create an offence under the emergency rules.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

CA asks Govt.officials to discharge duties neutrally

Chief Adviser (CA) to the Caretaker Government, Fakhruddin Ahmed in his first meeting with secretaries to the ministries yesterday asked the secretaries to be neutral and honest in their duties and support him in bringing back the people trust in bureaucrats. He also warned them of severe punitive measures if they fail to remain impartial.

In the meeting, pointing out that tax paid by the citizens pay for government officials' wages and also runs the government, Fakhruddin stressed that "Government officials have to remember that no political party is their master. They are the servants of the people's republic" and all officials have to ensure that the government services are delivered to the people's doorsteps. He assured that whatever changes are required to ensure impartiality in the administration, will be brought into existence. Fakhruddin said that "The responsibility of running the country lies with a government elected by the people, and he requested the officials to assist the council of advisers in fulfilling the prerequisites for holding an election, namely the people's trust in the administration.

Addressing the secretaries he said that the caretaker government will do all it can to revitalise all sectors of the economy. Emphasising the need for strengthening the power sector, the CA said all steps should be taken immediately to ensure power supply to factories, offices and households. Commenting on the improved law and order situation over the past week, Fakhruddin said the caretaker government is resolute in making it sustainable to ensure public security.

The CA praised small farmers for sustaining the country, and said they have been let down by the lack of assistance from the government, especially regarding supply of fertilisers. He also said relationships with friendly countries should be strengthened and steps should be taken to brighten Bangladesh's image abroad. The CA urged the secretaries to be more proactive in ensuring implementation of ongoing development projects and said that "any delay or failure in implementing projects will not be tolerated". Fakhruddins's meeting with the secretaries was held at Bangladesh Secretariat and longed for about two hours, where he later spent hours in his own office.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

CA pledges to hold Elections at the earliest

EC to be reconstituted, flawless electoral roll to be prepared

Chief Adviser Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed pledged to transfer power to an elected government at the earliest through holding a free, fair and credible general election after reconstituting the Election Commission (EC) and preparing a flawless electoral roll in his maiden address to the nation over radio and television. Fakhruddin, who assumed office on January 12 to head a reconstituted caretaker government, said the main task of his government is to hold a free, fair, peaceful and neutral election with participation of all parties in accordance with the constitution and people's aspiration.

Regarding demands for voter ID cards and transparent ballot boxes, he said necessary steps would be taken in this respect after examining the matters. He added that appropriate steps would be taken to ensure the statement of assets and sources of income of intending election candidates and prove the authenticity of their statements.Fakhruddin however stopped short of mentioning any timeframe for the parliamentary elections --earlier set for January 22.

Although the much-awaited address to the nation delivered by the chief adviser to the interim government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, dwelt repeatedly on what he termed as the principal responsibility of the military-backed administration — to deliver a free, fair and participatory election ‘at the earliest’ — the ambitious to-do list that was proposed alongside left little doubt that ‘the earliest’ would come later rather than sooner

Major parties' reaction to CA's Address

BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan urged the interim government to hold the election at the 'earliest possible time'. Giving the four-party's formal reaction to the chief adviser's (CA) speech to the nation, he thanked the CA for promising to hold an election as soon as possible and said people expected a specific timeframe for holding the election as the only task of the caretaker government is to assist the Election Commission and it is the elected government's responsibility to do the long-term things like preparation of voter ID cards.

The Awami League (AL)-led 14-party alliance expressed the hope that the caretaker government (CG) headed by Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed will take measurers to hold a free, fair and credible general election as early as possible by reconstituting the Election Commission (EC). Giving the alliance's formal reaction to the chief adviser's (CA) first address to the nation Sunday night, the AL general secretary said the people hope that the new CG will hand over power to an elected government following a fair and credible election and this will add a new dimension to democracy in the country. The party also demanded the arrest of corrupt people, criminals and their godfathers, illegal arms and black money holders to create a congenial atmosphere for a free and fair poll and build people's confidence in the polls process.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Chief Election Commissioner M. A. Aziz resigns

Poll set for today officially cancelled

Justice MA Aziz resigned from the post of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) yesterday citing a major political alliance's lack of confidence in him and to avert further political unrest in the country. Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) Secretariat issued a notification yesterday officially cancelling holding of the ninth parliamentary election today.

Aziz's departure ends his highly controversial 21-month stint in the office, during which he was forced to go on a leave of absence on November 22 after repeated demands for his resignation from Awami League (AL)-led alliance for failing to prepare a correct and updated voter list. His resignation follows the newly appointed caretaker government's announcement that reconstituting the problem-ridden EC is its top priority so that it can proceed with other electoral reforms, namely updating the voter list, and institutionalising the system of voter ID cards and transparent ballot boxes.

Law Adviser Mainul Hosein told on Saturday that the caretaker government decided to appoint a new CEC within a couple of days and that the new CEC will be selected from the bureaucracy. Aziz personally delivered his letter of resignation to President Iajuddin Ahmed at Bangabhaban yesterday afternoon, which the president accepted. In a statement released to the media on his behalf by his personal assistant, he said that if he continue in the post of CEC this may give certain political parties the opportunity to create once again new obstacles in the democratic process of holding national elections and would be seriously prejudicial to the interest of the country."

The biggest allegations against Aziz were that he failed to prepare a correct voter list and violated a High Court directive by creating a fresh voter list, which cost the taxpayer at least Tk 60 crore. Aziz assumed the office of CEC on May 23, 2005, during BNP-led alliance government's regime, and got mired in controversy by preparing a fresh voter list ignoring the High Court directive. Along with major political parties, election experts, different professional organisations and civil society personalities also demanded reconstitution of the EC for holding a free and fair election. Foreign diplomats also started speaking against the Aziz-led EC saying the people had lost confidence in the commission. But, President Iajuddin opted not to reconstitute the EC and instead he sent two commissioners on leave and appointed two new, even more controversial, commissioners compounding an already complex crisis.


An EC Secretariat notification released yesterday under section 21 of the General Clauses Act 1897, cancelled all its previous notifications in relation to the election that was scheduled for today.It said the election will not take place as the president believed it could not take place on schedule, and added, "In light of internal disturbances that might endanger the economic life the president promulgated a state of emergency under Article 141A(1) of the constitution."The notification further said all activities and measures taken under proscribed notifications will be considered legally null and void.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Leaders,activists skip party offices following state of emergency

The leaders and activists of most major political parties hardly visit the offices to avoid being arrested after the declaration of the state of emergency on January 11.

The central office of the BNP at Naya Paltan and of the Awami Leage on Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka.

The emergency has suspended the daily activities of the political parties, prompting them to hold a series of discussions indoors to assess their gains and losses after the happening. Some mid-level leaders and activists gather near the party’s central offices, but they seldom go inside. Several dozen grassroots activists gathered in front of the Awami League central office on Bangabandhu Avenue in the afternoon on Thursday, but they did not enter the office. Almost all the rooms were vacant. Only a few on the paid staff were inside.

The leaders and activists have almost stopped visiting the Dhanmondi office of the Awami League president, Sheikh Hasina, and her residence, Sudha Sadan. Only a few senior leaders, who are asked to meet the party chief, go to Sudha Sadan. No grassroots leaders and activists had visited the Dhanmondi office for three days.

The BNP’s central office at Naya Paltan also had a thin attendance at about noon on Wednesday. Only some on the paid staffs were present. Of the central leaders, the party’s joint secretary general Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, assistant office secretary Syed Emran Saleh Prince, and assistant publicity secretary Ahmed Musa now attend the office almost every evening. The BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, is running the party activities from her office at Banani. Although the presence of grassroots leaders was thin in front of the office at Banani, mid-level BNP leaders and former lawmakers are frequently visiting Khaleda and joint secretary general Tarique Rahman almost every evening.

The office of the Liberal Democratic Party at Baridhara has remained almost vacant after the declaration of the emergency.Only a single room of the office was open in the evening on Wednesday to liaise with the press. No central leader had gone to the office for a week. The party’s central office on the Topkhana road also remains vacant most of the time. No leader and activist visited the place in the past week.

The case is a bit different with the central office of the Jamaat-e-Islami at Moghbazar and the offices of the left-leaning political parties in the Purana Paltan areas.Most central leaders and a large number of activists are visiting the offices of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Workers Party, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction led by Hasanul Haq Inu. The security forces and law enforces, meanwhile, arrested about 9,000 persons, most of them having links with major political parties, after January 11.