The Election Commission (EC) in an unprecedented move yesterday agreed to allow the armed forces to arrest anyone from any place without a warrant during their engagement in election duties. The Armed Forces Division in a proposal earlier sought the power for the army, navy and the air force for seven days including the polling day to ensure a peaceful atmosphere and security of voters in light of the existing law and order situation.
Responding to the proposal, the EC finally asked the home ministry yesterday to issue a notification to allow the armed forces to have the authority as they had desired in addition to the power they already have to arrest any person within a radius of four hundred yards of a polling station on the polling day. The EC in its letter to the home ministry however did not specify the time limit for allowing the armed forces to exercise the new power. The home ministry will decide for how many days the armed forces will be allowed to exercise the power.
But sources in the EC said the armed forces will enjoy the power for 20 days from January 10, the day of their deployment across the country on election duties. President and Chief Adviser Iajuddin Ahmed yesterday directed the armed forces to carry out their assigned duties for holding the January 22 parliamentary election in a fair manner. The president gave the instruction when Army Chief Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed called on him in Bangabhaban in the afternoon. Being legally empowered, the army, navy and the air force will be able to take actions against any person if the person is guilty of unduly influencing or compelling any other person to vote or to refrain from voting, directly or indirectly, by himself or herself or by any other person on his or her behalf. The home ministry will now issue fresh instructions amending the previous circular issued by it on January 3.
According to the existing electoral laws, a member of any law enforcement agency including the army, navy and the air force shall have the power to arrest any person without a warrant for maintenance of peace, law and order in a polling station or within a radius of four hundred yards of a polling station on the polling day. The power given to the armed forces, for the first time through a controversial ordinance in 2001, also allows them to take actions against any activity that goes against the electoral code of conduct. AFD now has an additional authority of exercising this power all over the constituencies, which will have the polls on January 22. According to the election laws, the armed forces can also themselves remove or issue orders to remove multi-coloured posters or portraits of candidates, campaign gates and arches, barricades, banners, microphones, loudspeakers, and decorative campaign illuminations, and can paint over graffiti on walls.