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Ensure inclusive national election

If the next general election is not joined by all political parties, it would not be accepted nationally and internationally, a number of former chief election commissioners, election commissioners and election officials said yesterday.

They suggested capacity building for EC officials so that they can perform as returning officers during the national polls due next year.

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While attending a dialogue with the EC at its conference room, they also proposed a proportional representation system of election and recommended that the ministries of public administration and home be placed under the authority of the EC ahead of the parliamentary election.

They also opined against army deployment for election duties.

The EC held its sixth round of talks yesterday as part of a series of dialogue with a cross section of people, seeking recommendations on how to hold free and fair elections.

"If all parties don't participate in this election, it won't be acceptable. How you will bring them to election depends on the power of persuasion," former Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda said.

He said they had spent a good amount of time getting all the parties to join the 2008 election. "But from their public speeches, it seems that they [certain political parties] are adamant [about not joining the election] this year."

In a democratic society having an election system in place, a political party cannot stay out of election for long, according to Shamsul Huda.

"If we can create the environment, they would join the election," he added.

"Let there be a government truly elected through fair polls in our country. Let's reduce the use of muscle power."

Another former CEC, KM Nurul Huda, said he believed that the current EC would be able to conduct a free and fair election, but for that it would require cooperation from all political parties.

He also said there is no need to deploy the army for election duty.

Former CEC Justice Abdur Rouf said the winning side terms the election process as fair while the losing side criticises the EC.

"If you want to keep things as it is and do not have the courage to change the situation, then at least set up one polling station for every 500 voters…. This will reduce the voting hours and voting will end by noon," he said.

"You can complete counting of votes in the daytime. The worst thing is that the counting of votes starts in the evening. And then we see jinns and ghosts and everything else after the sunset."

He also proposed proportional representation, an electoral system in which the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party.

For example, if a party gained 40 percent of the total votes, a perfectly proportional system would allow them to gain 40 percent of the seats, according to

Currently, Justice Abdur Rouf observed, political parties are in bad shape. There is no political party in true sense; they don't have a research cell or shadow secretariat; they don't have any vision for the development of the country. "They just make freestyle comments."

He also called for a change in the culture within the political parties.

Former EC Mahbub Talukdar said, "If the election is not participatory, it will not be acceptable nationally and internationally. On the other hand, the next national election will have to be of international standards. A neutral government is needed to hold an international-standard election."

Mahbub proposed appointing senior EC officials as returning officers in place of the deputy commissioners.

He also suggested the public administration and home ministries be placed under the authority of the EC during the polls. "Activities of police must be strictly monitored and curbed at that time."

Former EC Mohammad Abu Hafiz said participation of all political parties in the national polls must be ensured. "But the Election Commission cannot be involved in this. If they become involved, they will see that nothing can be done."

During his tenure, the EC made many efforts to bring in those who boycotted the elections. "But that didn't happen. There was a lot of violence. If there were no elections at that time, there would have been more violence."

Former EC Shah Nawaz said the electronic voting machine (EVM) is a very advanced technology and there is no chance of hacking it, as it does not have internet connections.

But the main problem in using it in elections is interference by "goons" who forcibly press the EVM buttons for the voters, he added. "If you can prevent this, trust in the machines will increase."

Former EC secretary M Abdullah too emphasised on participation of all political parties in the election. "If you can bring all political parties into the polls, you will be 80 percent successful."

Another former EC secretary Muhammed Sadique proposed using EVM in elections. He opposed the staggered elections and setting up CCTV cameras at polling stations was an ambitious project.

CEC Kazi Habibul Awal told reporters after the talks that everybody spoke for an inclusive election for it to be accepted. But the EC alone does not hold the election; voters and political parties are vital stakeholders here.

If they lack mutual understanding, it is difficult for the EC to conduct such elections, he added.

"We will start discussion with political parties. We will seek suggestions from them about the kind of structural changes we need to hold free and fair elections," he said.

He added that no single person can hold a fair election; free and fair elections require a proper system.

The EC started the talks on March 13 and so far held five rounds of dialogues with academics, eminent citizens, journalists and election observers.

They will also hold talks with political parties.