The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs has recommended two changes to the draft law on the formation of the Election Commission.
The changes related to the eligibility and disqualification criteria for the chief election commissioner and election commissioners.
After discussing the bill at a meeting at the National Parliament building on Monday afternoon, the committee finalized its report for submission at the next session of parliament on Wednesday.
Following the meeting, Committee Chairman Md Shahiduzzaman Sarker told reporters: “The committee has finalized the report after detailed discussions. We have made some changes in the qualifications and disqualifications section.”
However, BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana claimed the parliamentary committee had neglected her observations in the report.
Law Minister Anisul Huq tabled the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners Appointment Bill 2022 during Sunday’s session of parliament.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs had been asked to scrutinize the bill and send it back within seven days.
What changes were recommended?
Section 5 (c) of the bill stated that the CEC and election commissioners must be Bangladeshi nationals, at least 50 years old, and must have worked in a government, semi-government, or private sector position or in the judiciary for at least 20 years.
The parliamentary committee recommended the inclusion of “autonomous and other professions” in addition to government, semi-government, judicial, or private sectors in this section.
Regarding disqualification, the bill stated in Section 6 (d) that a person convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to at least two years’ imprisonment cannot become CEC or an EC.
The parliamentary committee recommended removing “at least two years’ imprisonment” from the section.
Shahiduzzaman Sarker said: “Any term of imprisonment for a criminal offence of moral degradation will disqualify candidates from becoming CEC or EC.”
Responding to a question regarding the previous search committee’s legitimacy considering the bill, he said: ” The bill has given legitimacy to the previous search committees in Section 9. The last two search committees have been given legal approval.”
Law Minister Anisul Huq and members of parliament Mostafizur Rahman, Md Shamsul Haque Tuku, Md Abdul Majid Khan, Shameem Haider Patwary, Gloria Jharna Sarker, Rumeen Farhana, and Selim Altaf George were present at the meeting, among others.
What do BNP lawmakers say?
When contacted after the meeting, Rumeen Farhana told media she made several suggestions, but the committee did not give them any attention.
“I said in the meeting that the bill was going to be passed in parliament in a hurry, but the suggestions of politicians, civil society, and journalists were needed before the drafting of this bill,” she said.
She added: “I have suggested the inclusion of three lawmakers in the search committee; one each from the ruling party, opposition party and third majority party of parliament, but this was not accepted in the meeting either.”
The BNP lawmaker also said she wanted the EC search committee to disclose their choices for CEC and election commissioners before selecting them, so that the public could give their opinion on the candidates.
She also claimed it was unethical for the bill to retroactively legitimize previous search committees.
What does the bill say about previous search committees?
In order to legitimize previous Election Commissions, several provisions were included in the bill.
According to the bill, a justice of the Appellate Division, nominated by the chief justice, would be the head of the six-member search committee.
The five other members would be a justice of the High Court Division nominated by the chief justice, the comptroller and auditor general, the chairman of the Bangladesh Public Service Commission, and two other personalities nominated by the president.
Article 118 (1) of the Constitution states: “There shall be an Election Commission for Bangladesh consisting of [the chief election commissioner and not more than four election commissioners] and the appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the president.”
In the past, the president appointed the CEC and commissioners in the absence of the law.
The last two Election Commissions, headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed and KM Nurul Huda, were constituted through search committees formed by the president following dialogues with political parties.
The president picked the CEC and four election commissioners in 2012 and 2017 from the names suggested by the search committee