The Election Commission’s proactive efforts to create comprehensive observation guidelines for foreign observers highlight its commitment to transparent and fair electoral processes
The Election Commission (EC) is in the process of formulating observation guidelines to assist international observers who intend to participate in the monitoring of the upcoming 12th National Assembly elections. The objective of this constitutional entity is to complete the drafting of these guidelines by the initial week of September in the upcoming month.
Following a recent session, Ashok Kumar Debnath, the Additional Secretary of the EC, conveyed to journalists that a preliminary discourse concerning the foreign observer policy had taken place on the day. He further elaborated that more deliberations are required, and he had engaged in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Board of Revenue (NBR), and the Ministry of Information on the matter. However, no definitive conclusions were reached during the proceedings on that day, as confirmed by Ashok Kumar Debnath.
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Debnath elucidated, “We have critically evaluated our existing policy and identified the aspects that necessitate revision. Our intention is to reconvene in the following week. Subsequent to two more meetings, our intention is to conclude the drafting process and subsequently present the finalized guidelines to the commission.”
EC’s approval will make the guidelines final
The guidelines will achieve their ultimate status once they receive the approval of the commission.
Responding to inquiries from reporters, Ashok Kumar stated, “Our approach to creating the guidelines is centered on ensuring their utility for foreign observers and user-friendliness.” When questioned about the potential for alterations to the guidelines, Ashok Kumar indicated that no determinations have been made in that regard.
He further conveyed, “Our intention is to conclude the drafting process by the first week of September. Following its finalization, the commission’s decision will determine the posting of the notification on the website. Interested parties can then proceed to apply. Upon approval, in accordance with the established procedure outlined in the application, they will be eligible to participate as observers.”
‘User-Friendly’ Approach for International Observers
During the meeting held on Wednesday, Election Commission (EC) officials deliberated on several aspects of facilitating foreign observers. These discussions encompassed the scope of foreign applications for participating in poll observation, the essential technical provisions required, and the suggestions presented by a pre-election delegation aimed at enhancing policy frameworks. Concurrently, a pre-investigation delegation from the European Union (EU) engaged in talks with the Chief Election Commissioner, while a pre-election observation team from the United States is scheduled to arrive in October.
Application deadline for election monitoring
Moreover, the Election Commission has extended an invitation to the EU to deploy a considerable number of neutral observers for monitoring the forthcoming elections. The EC emphasized that applications need to be submitted by September due to the involved procedural formalities, including clearance from the Ministries of Home Affairs and External Affairs. The Commission expressed full openness to accommodating as many neutral observers as desired without any objections.
The meeting centered on delineating the parameters for foreign observer applications, ensuring necessary technical infrastructure, and integrating recommendations from a pre-election delegation into policy updates. Furthermore, EU representatives, during their interactions with the Commission, advocated for the provision of certain observer equipment and addressed taxation concerns.
Consequently, discussions are underway with relevant authorities, including the National Board of Revenue (NBR), to incorporate these aspects into the policy to enhance observer convenience. Additionally, considerations about the commencement of the application process involve consultations with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs.
The EC aims to conduct the 12th parliamentary elections either during the final week of December this year or the initial week of January next year, with a potential schedule announcement slated for November.
Foreign nationals are required to adhere to existing laws by the host country
During the routine briefing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Thursday, spokesperson Sehli Sabreen emphasized that foreign observers intending to participate in monitoring the forthcoming elections are expected to adhere to the prevailing laws of Bangladesh, in addition to the election observation guidelines set forth by the Election Commission.
- In the past, both the European Union (EU) and the United States refrained from sending observers to the 11th and 10th parliamentary elections held in 2018 and 2014. Their decisions were influenced by concerns over the legitimacy of these two elections.
- During the 11th parliamentary elections, a substantial number of observers were present, including 25,900 representatives from 81 domestic observer organizations. Additionally, 38 foreign observers (invited from organizations such as FEMBoSA, AAEA, OIC, and the Commonwealth), 64 officials from various foreign missions, and 61 individuals affiliated with embassies and foreign organizations participated in the observation process.
- The 10th parliamentary elections, which not all parties participated in, experienced a lower observer count. Held on January 5, 2014, this election saw the participation of only 4 foreign observers and 8,874 individuals from 35 local organizations in monitoring the voting process.
- In previous years, various election scenarios have seen different levels of observer presence. For instance, the 2008 elections involved 593 foreign observers and 159,113 domestic observers. In 2001, there were 225 foreign observers and 218,000 domestic observers. Similarly, the 1996 elections saw approximately 40,000 domestic observers and 265 foreign observers. In 1991, around 30,000 domestic observers and 59 foreign observers were present during the voting process.
Table: The number of observers, encompassing both domestic and foreign, who monitored preceding elections
The Election Commission’s proactive efforts to create comprehensive observation guidelines for international observers highlight its commitment to transparent and fair electoral processes. As the commission meticulously refines these guidelines in collaboration with various stakeholders, the prospect of a user-friendly approach paves the way for an inclusive monitoring experience. With foreign nationals expected to respect the host country’s laws and policies, the upcoming 12th National Assembly elections are poised to gain international attention and scrutiny.
As the process unfolds, the significance of impartial observation in strengthening democratic practices becomes increasingly evident, shaping the electoral landscape for the final week of December or the initial week of January. The commission’s receptive stance toward welcoming observers from diverse backgrounds showcases its dedication to facilitating an electoral process that stands up to international standards.