EC silent over code of conduct violations in city polls

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There have been over 250 violations of the election code of conduct in the elections to Dhaka North and South and Chittagong city corporations. The mobile court has fined the candidates or their representatives in 48 instances.

Warning notices have been issued in 127 incidents. But the Election Commission has failed to ensure that the main election contenders, the ministers and persons of similar rank, adhere to the code. While speaking to Prothom Alo, two election commissioners, a returning officer and officials of the election secretariat have said that certain ministers and persons of such rank have specifically violated the election code of conduct, but they refrained from commenting about whether any action was taken against them.

Jatiya Party chairman Hussain Muhammed Ershad is special envoy to the prime minister, with the rank of minister. He has an office in the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament). Due to his position, he has been assigned officers and employees by the government. It is not even a gratis post. Yet he is going about campaigning in the city corporation election for candidates backed by his party. Ershad claims that the code of conduct does not apply to him.

However, two officials of the Election Commission secretariat told Prothom Alo, Ershad will not be able to take part in the campaigning for the same reason that the prime minister and the ministers cannot. Minister for road transport and bridges Obaidul Kader said, there is no need to deploy the army during the city corporation elections. There is debate over whether the minister can even make such a statement.

It is up to the EC to decide on how to ensure a free and fair election. The government is there just to facilitate the EC in carrying out its duties. Minister for housing and public works Mosharraf Hossain also asked the people to vote for the Awami League-backed candidate in Chittagong. This is a violation of the code of conduct.

An election commissioner has said, a minister has highlighted the stand of the government. So even if the EC is against deploying the army, it will be said that the army was not deployed because the government didn’t want it. Such statements by ministers are certainly violations of the code. The ministers will be requested, through the cabinet secretary, to speak cautiously about the city corporation election.

Eleven days of election campaigning have passed so far, but the EC has failed to deal strictly with violations of the code of conduct. As a result, the violations continue unabated. While the commission may be “annoyed” with the ministers and persons of similar rank in this regard, nothing is being done about it.

According to information from the Dhaka North and South and Chittagong city corporation returning officer offices, most of the complaints regarding code of conduct violations are against the government-backed candidates and their campaigners. There are also some such allegations of violations against the BNP-backed mayoral candidates and some councillors in Dhaka North and South.

Allegations of violating the election code of conduct have been pouring in to the returning officer’s offices ever since the election schedule was announced. So far 90 of the complaints have been settled. And the mobile courts have been taking actions against 12 to 15 such violations every day. The actions are mainly limited to fines.

Election commissioner Mohammed Shahnewaz told Prothom Alo, they take action whenever there are complaints. In some cases, there have been violations, but no one has complained. The commission takes action the moment such incidents come to light.

The BNP-backed mayoral candidate for Dhaka North, Tabith Awal, led a procession in Gabtali on Saturday. The day before that, BNP-backed Dhaka South mayoral candidate Mirza Abbas’ wife Afroza Abbas used a microphone during her campaigning, before two in the afternoon. No action was taken in either of the cases.

The government-backed mayoral candidate of Dhaka South Sayeed Khokan launched into his campaign after Friday prayers at the Jurain mosque. Campaigning in religious institutions is prohibited.

Annisul Huq, government-backed candidate of Dhaka North, dressed his supporters in matching T-shirts for the campaign. He has also been accused of leading processions.

Dhaka South returning officer Shah Alam told Prothom Alo, HM Ershad cannot campaign. He has ministerial status. The allegations against Annisul Huq and Tabith Awal will be scrutinised. Councillor candidate Kawser Ahmed was arrested by police, but the EC or the returning officer have not spoken to the police about this. The police did not feel the necessity to inform the EC about this as well.

Former election commission M Sakhawat Hossain told Prothom Alo, the election commission should not make any concessions regarding violation of the code of conduct. The violations will only increase if they do so. The commission should time and again caution the ministers and others in this regard. This is not being done. The election commission must speak out.

Dhaka South city corporation returning officer Mihir Sarwar Morshed issued notices for violation of the code of conduct against 90 persons from the time the schedule was announced to the day of the nomination papers being submitted. So far, 60 of the persons responded to the notices and some even paid fines.

Various steps were taken against another 38 persons for violating the code of conduct after the campaigning begun. However, here too there have been concessions. Jatiya Party candidate Saifuddin Ahmed organised a feast in the party office and HM Ershad campaigned on his behalf, yet the returning officer and the mobile court took no action. The same has taken place in the case of Sayeed Khokan and Mirza Abbas.

In Chittagong City Corporation, till Saturday there have been 60 instances of the code of conduct being violated. Mayoral candidate Waiz Hossain Bhuiyan on 17 April was fined Tk 10 thousand for using a microphone in violation of the rules. Another five councillor candidates were fined for other violations. The two main mayoral candidates, Manzur Alam and AZM Nasir and eight councillors have been issued warnings for violating the rules.

Source: Prothom Alo