Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal’s proactive stance on potential rescheduling demonstrates a commitment to inclusive elections
On 26th November 2023, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal stated that the upcoming general election could be rescheduled if the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) decides to participate. Despite invitations, the BNP has so far refused to join the election, but the CEC expressed hope for a compromise before the deadline. The CEC assured that the Election Commission would act in the best interest of the election and uphold its jurisdiction.
Other election commissioners, including Md Alamgir and Rashida Sultana, had previously indicated the possibility of assisting the BNP and reconsidering the election schedule if the party expressed willingness to participate. The CEC also clarified that the electoral code of conduct is not applicable until the finalization of candidate lists for the 12th Jatiya Sangsad polls, stating that activities before the nomination process concludes, will not be considered as election campaigning.
Code of Conduct for 12th Parliamentary Elections
“The code of conduct of 2008 is applicable to candidates. Party-nominated candidates or prospective candidates are not candidates. Candidates who are finally eligible after filing nominations will be allotted symbols. From that day on, the opportunity for an election campaign will be given to them,”
-Kazi Habibul Awal, Chief Election Commissioner, (CEC)
The electoral Code of Conduct comprises a set of guidelines for adherence by political parties, candidates, voters, and other key electoral stakeholders. The period spanning from the announcement of the election schedule to the official gazette’s publication of the election results is recognized as the election period. Throughout this duration, the electoral code of conduct imposes several restrictions.
The electoral code of conduct places various constraints on the actions during the election period:
- Government, semi-government, or autonomous bodies cannot approve, announce, or lay the foundation stone for any development project.
- Donations or promises of donations cannot be made to any person or organization.
- Political or electoral events cannot be combined with government programs or visits.
- Government vehicles are prohibited from being used for election campaigns.
- Living creatures cannot serve as election symbols.
- Cloth-made posters and banners are not allowed for election campaigns.
- Posters should be hung, not stuck onto buildings, fences, etc.
- Attendance at meetings on government development activities is prohibited.
- Participation in meetings of the governing bodies of educational institutions as president or member is not allowed.
- Teachers or staff of government, semi-government, autonomous, or educational institutions cannot be involved in election campaigns.
- Government Dak Bungalow, circuit house, rest house, and government offices cannot be utilized for campaign purposes.
- Campaigns cannot include processions using trucks, buses, motorcycles, etc.
- Helicopters or aircraft cannot be used; only heads of parties can use aircraft, but not for distributing or displaying leaflets, banners, or any other campaign documents.
- Campaign activities must not obstruct roads, and meetings require prior approval on the venue, date, and time from the authorities concerned. Police must be notified at least 24 hours before meetings.
- Violations of the code of conduct may result in a maximum of six months imprisonment, a Tk50,000 fine, or both.
On 26th November 2023, about that the Chief Election Commissioner, Kazi Habibul Awal, stated that the electoral code of conduct is not applicable until the finalization of candidate lists by returning officers for the 12th parliamentary elections. He clarified that the code becomes relevant only when candidates are officially eligible after nomination filing, and election campaigns are permitted from that point onward.
The CEC emphasized that actions taken before this stage are not considered part of the election campaign, allowing political parties freedom in their activities. The enforcement of the code of conduct will commence once returning officers declare candidates eligible, at which point the Election Commission will monitor and take legal action against violations. The CEC also addressed discussions about the possibility of postponing the polling date, stating that no decision has been made yet, the election will be held on the announced date.
Election Schedule and Procedures
The poll schedule for the crucial general election on January 7, 2024 (Sunday) with 11,96,91,633 registered voters was announced by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Habibul Awal via a televised speech on November 15, 2023. Submissions will be reviewed by the Election Commission from December 1-4, appeals against nominations will be accepted from December 6-5, and nominations must be withdrawn by December 17.
Moreover, the official start of the election campaign, during which political parties can distribute symbols, is on December 18, and the campaign will conclude on January 5. Emphasizing the importance of peaceful, participatory, and free polls, the CEC stressed the significance of political parties adhering to the code of conduct and maintaining law and order.
Several discussions with stakeholders and political parties, including dialogues initiated by the EC with different political parties, have taken place. The CEC, in collaboration with the government, aims for a smooth electoral process and urges all political parties to comply with the code of conduct.
To facilitate the election, the EC will promptly issue a public notification and appoint returning officers (ROs) and assistant returning officers (AROs). Empowered by legal authority under electoral laws, the ROs, with the support of AROs, will carry out necessary tasks to ensure a fair election. Additionally, the EC plans to send a demi-official letter to the cabinet division, seeking assistance and requesting that field-level government officers remain in their positions until the election results are published.
In conclusion, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal’s proactive stance on potential rescheduling demonstrates a commitment to inclusive elections. Emphasizing the non-applicability of the electoral code until candidate finalization allows for a flexible pre-campaign period, fostering political engagement. The CEC’s call for adherence to the code, coupled with collaborative efforts, aims to ensure a fair, peaceful, and participatory 12th general election on January 7, 2024.