Saturday, November 30, 2013

CEC addresses the nation and disappoints it

29th November, 2013

M. Serajul Islam

Dr. Sadat Hossain, former Chairman of the Public Service Commission and former Cabinet Secretary in his matter of fact way perhaps articulated the current situation and the BNP’s predicament of election and level playing ground better than most Talk Show participants. Amidst claims by the government that it has done everything for holding free, fair and credible national election and that none should have any concerns to the contrary, he narrated his experience on the road the day the AL and its supporters were marching in processions to the party’s head office to collect election forms that gave a graphic picture to viewers of the type of level playing ground that the BNP could expect in elections held under the Awami League.

That day, there were umpteen processions, of various sizes proceeding to the party office. The police was working overtime, holding traffic to let these processions go by, some in tens, some more, but all accorded the courtesy of free passage at the expense of the people on the road and their immense sufferings After all, the processions were of those belonging to the ruling party and therefore deserved the courtesy, the sufferings of the people notwithstanding!

Level playing misnomer
The point the former Cabinet Secretary made was a simple one; that come the day of elections or in the days leading to it, the police, that would no doubt play a very critical role in whether the playing ground is level or otherwise, would no doubt give this courtesy to the ruling party and the people would have to watch and wonder where the level field the CEC promised in his address had vanished. In fact, Dr. Hossain made it a little bit easier for people not to go into denial. He said based on his lifelong experience in government that if a Minister or even the Prime Minister, were to ask the police out of sheer embarrassment not to extend such courtesy, the police would beg to be forgiven and tell them that they simply could not do anything else! If readers were to consider the extent of politicization that has gone into the police force, then they would be able to conclude that the BNP would not even have a field to play in election under the ruling party.

I wonder if the CEC had seen this particular Talk Show. I think he did not because there was no reason for him to watch this particular Talk Show or for that matter any other Talk Show these days because he surely knows too well what these Talk Shows discuss. He also knows as well that when he and the Election Commission are the subjects in the Talk Shows as they frequently are, the views of the participants are anything but complimentary. For once though since the current political situation became the bread and butter of the Talk Shows, there was a sudden change of heart among the people for the CEC and the EC. The day before his address, with the nation in prayers for an understanding between the AL and the BNP, the CEC went before the media and raised people’s expectations at a time when they were in the height of despair.

That evening, over-riding the statement that one of his Commissioners had made a couple of days before that coming Monday that the Commission would announce the election schedule, the CEC stated that efforts were underway to make the elections “inclusive”. In a voice full of affection and compassion and of course loaded with hope, he told journalists with the TV cameras glaring at him that like the nation, he too was waiting for the elections to be “inclusive” and asked people not to worry on the time factor, aware that there was great concern among them that time was running out fast. The CEC assured the people through the media that there was enough time in the hands of the Commission and it could wait for the two mainstream parties to negotiate and resolve their differences. That evening, the CEC had become a harbinger of hope to a nation in despair. 

Ershad’s antics
What happened next day was no less dramatic, perhaps more, than what former President had done. HM Ershad’s statements that if he joined the elections, people would spit with him and that he would not go with the AL even to heaven and then his volte face to join the controversial All-Party Government was perhaps less dramatic in the context of people’s hopes and expectations than the change in the CEC’s the day before and his address to the nation that punctured the nation’s optimism like a pin does to a balloon when pricked. The nation would have to wait till the sun sets on its current predicament and a new dawn begins to know what happened behind the scene for the CEC to have given his address to the nation in such questionable haste so soon after raising people’s expectations although this did not inhibit the people from concluding what prompted the CEC’s summersault in such indecent haste.

The address to the nation was not the end of the CEC’s predicament, which cannot be one that he is relishing. In the heat of the moment or to use a better expression, the height of disappointment, few considered the relevant facts about the CEC’s address. His address was billed as an address to the nation and the ambiance surrounding it had all that usually goes with an address by the President or the Prime Minister. The official BTV carried it and all private TV channels also carried the address live, courtesy the BTV. He was in fact given the same respect and importance that is reserved for the President and the Prime Minister. His post is a constitutional one. But he is not an elected representative and the warrant of precedence does not place him in the company of the President and the Prime Minister and the privilege to address the nation like these two top elected leaders of the country. Therefore those who arranged this address would have to answer for a major error; that of elevating the CEC to where he does not belong.

CEC’s major errors
This was not just what went wrong with the CEC’s address. There was another error that also escaped the attention of many; particularly the aides of the CEC who did not seem to have any clue of what they were dealing with. If it was an address to the nation that the CEC was making and if those who arranged it considered that the CEC came in the warrant of precedence after the President and the Prime Minister, they forgot a major issue of the picture. In a national address, it is imperative and also a constitutional requirement that such events must be accompanied with the picture of the Father of the Nation in the background. There was no picture of the leader and instead there was what appeared like a picture of a scene out of rural Bangladesh! There could indeed be a charge of disrespect for the constitution as demanded by the 15th Amendment that does take such violations lightly for anyone to be fooling with it!

There are just too many incongruities in the CEC address that to simply suggest that he disappointed the nation would be making light of an issue that is of the utmost importance to the nation; an issue that could make or break the country. His position in the warrant of precedence notwithstanding, he went to make the address with the government in the disposal of the Election Commission in matters of holding the national elections to ensure the passage of one elected government to another. Even if one was to be overtly partial in evaluating the performance of the CEC and the EC under his stewardship, there is precious little to write home about what he has done thus far to create the type of confidence in the people that he is up to such a task. When the government was trying to make the EC powerful, the CEC yielded powers to the government that caused dismay in the minds of the people. The way the EC dealt with the RPO and gave registration to a breakaway faction of the BNP raised genuine questions about its independence.

The CEC’s address to the nation had a similarity to Dr. Sadat Hosain’s experience with the police force in the context of mindset. It ended embarrassing the government because if anything, it helped create in the minds of the people the reverse of what the government is trying to do; convince people that the EC is independent and capable of delivering to the nation, a free, fair and transparent national election. All said, one must wonder why did the CEC raised peoples’ hope on Sunday evening and make the volte face the day after. If he had avoided the media on Sunday evening, he would at least have been able to save face. Perhaps, even that decision, when to appear before the media and when not to be is also not in his hands!

No leeway for EC
Nevertheless, to be fair to the CEC and the Election Commission, there is no reason to believe that this Commission has been given any leeway to exercise its powers and influence except act in the straight jacket set up set for it by the government. Therefore, it would be nothing more than a daydream for the people to bank any hopes on the EC of delivering the country from the slide of the country to the brink. This notwithstanding, the people had still hoped in what he had said the Sunday before his address to the nation because they are on the brink and like a nation drowning, could not help holding even the straw to keep from drowning. 

Nevertheless, the Chief Election Commissioner is a good man and has friends and well-wishers. They should now come together in prayer to the Almighty to give the Prime Minister the goodness of heart so that she would in turn give the CEC some powers to recover the face he has lost with the nation for no fault of his except one. He has thus far not revealed to the people what his real position is as the chief of the Commission; that although according to the constitution and the laws of the land he can still be powerful to deliver the nation what it wants; the right to choose from among the registered political parties the one to form the next government of Bangladesh; in reality his hands are tied behind his back by his political masters. This is the plain truth.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador

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