Electoral laws to see more changes

Moinul Hoque Chowdhury bdnews24.com Senior Correspondent

Dhaka, Oct 17

Though the Election Commission is yet to take any major step even after eight months of taking the charge, it intends to suggest several changes to the electoral laws in the one year left to the next general elections.

The Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad-led Commission’s amendment plans include a proposal to raise the ceiling of poll expenditure for candidates in parliamentary elections.

An EC member told bdnews24.com that it was thinking of raising the ceiling of election expenditure of MP candidates from Tk 1.5 million to Tk 2.5 million.

The previous Commission had raised the ceiling from Tk 500,000 to Tk 1.5 million.

The EC also plans to change laws on candidate’s security money, control over important ministries and departments of the government during the election, punishment for violating electoral rules, independent candidacy and switching parties.

Chief Election Commissioner Ahmad has said they were checking the existing Representation of the People Order (RPO) and would propose necessary amendments after reviewing everything.

“We’ll finalise our proposal in a few days. We’ll inform everyone then,” he told bdnews24.com on Monday.

He did not clear whether there would be any dialogue to seek opinion over the proposals.

The current EC has organised only one vote – the by-election to Gazipur’s Kapasia. It was an election without any electronic voting machine (EVM), which is said to be one of the successes of the last EC.

The ATM Shamsul Huda-led Commission had also given some proposals to improve the functioning of the top poll body. The current EC, however, seems to be indifferent to the move.

The present EC recently held dialogues with distinguished people and senior journalists over updating the voter list with photos and demarcation of constituencies.

It will sit with the political parties after the Eid-ul-Azha, according to the EC officials.

The Commission has only about one year to plan, discuss and change the electoral laws before the next parliamentary elections, as it has to be held between November 2013 and January 2014 in line with the constitutional provisions.

Election Commissioner Mohamad Shah Nawaz told bdnews24.com that the draft of the proposals could be ready for review in October.

If everything went as per plan, he added, move for changes in the election laws could be initiated at the start of the next year.

An Election Commissioner, requesting anonymity, said the EC also wanted to raise the amount of security money for MP candidates. The amount is Tk 10,000 now.

Though the Constitution gives the EC the authority to control the government during elections, it intends to further strengthen its power.

“The EC will be stronger once provisions over violation of its order during elections and punishment for the same are included in the RPO,” the Commissioner, who sought anonymity, said.

The EC will also propose to raise the highest punishment by mobile courts for violating election rules from two years to seven years. The Commission officials argue that it would be easier for magistrates to conduct mobile courts once the law is changed.

It plans to ease the process of changing parties and contesting as an Independent candidate as well.

An Election Commissioner said that the rule to have support of at least one percent voters in a constituency to contest as an Independent candidate was ‘illogical’.

The last EC introduced the rule to stop ‘dummy candidates’, restricting the number of Independent candidates in the last general election to 148. People concerned express apprehension that their number would run into thousands if the rule is dropped.

Aspirants cannot change parties just before elections now as they have to be in a party for at least three years for being able to contest in polls, according to the rules set by the last Commission.

The current EC, however, is relaxing the norms.

“What’ll the EC do if anyone changes his party? It’s not good for a democratic country to have such rules. We’ll review everything and make the draft accordingly,” an Election Commissioner said.