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.