RPO Bill limiting EC’s powers rejected by voice of objections in Parliament

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In the current law, the Election Commission has the power to cancel any stage of the election due to irregularities or violence. But limiting this power, the revised RPO has a provision that ‘EC can stop voting only on polling day’. Apart from this, the EC cannot suspend or cancel the results of the election of the entire constituency on the grounds of election irregularities in any seat of the Jatiya Sangsad. The commission has the power to suspend or cancel the polling results of only those polling stations where allegations of irregularities are proven. Keeping these provisions, Law Minister Anisul Haque has raised the Representation of the People Order (RPO) Amendment Bill in the National Assembly. Earlier, Jatiya Party Member of Parliament Fakhrul Imam objected to the new bill claiming that the EC’s powers were being curtailed. But it was voted down. Later, the Law Minister raised the bill in Parliament. The Bill has been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law Ministry to examine and report to the Parliament within 15 days. Parliamentary Standing Committees may add or subtract proposals. Finally the bill will be presented for passage. Regarding the purpose and reasons of the bill, the law minister said, “If the bill becomes a law, it will play a role in holding the national elections in a free, fair and impartial manner.” Section 91 (A) of the Representation of the People Act of the National Elections Act states, ‘If the Election Commission is satisfied that any polling station will not be able to ensure the conduct of elections in a reasonable, fair and lawful manner due to various existing malpractices including use of force, intimidation and pressure at the polls. Or, as the case may be, can stop election activities including taking votes at any stage of the election in the entire electoral area.’ However, there is a difference of opinion as to whether the EC can suspend or cancel the result after the returning officer declares the result. For this reason, the EC proposed to add another sub-section to this provision to clarify the issue. The proposal said that the Election Commission can suspend the polling results of a polling station or the entire seat if there is any complaint of irregularities or intimidation. After that, if the complaint is quickly investigated and found to be true, the polls of any center or the entire seat can be canceled and a new election can be held. However, the proposed amendment to the bill does not empower the EC to suspend or cancel the results of the entire constituency. It has been said that the EC can suspend or cancel the results of polling in polling stations where there are (one or more) complaints and hold new elections if necessary. Apart from this, amendment is being brought in section 91 (A). The amendment proposes to substitute the word ‘polling’ for the word ‘election’ in this sub-section of section 91 of the RPO. The bill also includes provisions for punishing media workers and observers who are responsible for gathering election news. A minimum of two years to a maximum of seven years of imprisonment has been provided for such offences. Jatiya Party Member of Parliament Fakhrul Imam objected to the introduction of the bill and said, “The Constitution is giving independence to the Election Commission.” Even after 52 years, we passed the Election Commission (Establishment) Act. The Election Commission will be independent in carrying out its duties. We are going to legislate. If we abolish freedom by law. So how will the commission be independent?’ The parliament of Jatiya Party said, ‘I saw in the RPO, we saw that the election of Gaibandha was bad and the commission was closed. I don’t know why the law minister has now brought the election commission can’t stop the entire election. Polling stations can be closed. You can close the mess where it happened. Meaning, there is interference with freedom. If the election commission feels that the situation here is bad, the right to stop the entire election like Gaibandha has been curtailed here. This issue of destroying freedom is in conflict with the constitution. Fakhrul Imam believes that the amendment bill is in conflict with the spirit of the constitution and democracy. He said, “We want to see the Election Commission as independent. Whatever the commission sends should be passed by the parliament. In response to Fakhrul Imam’s statement, Law Minister Anisul Haque said, “This amendment is not against the constitution or democracy.” Section 91 (A) of the Act says, if the Election Commission sees that there is a problem in any electoral area, there are questions, confusion, obstruction of voting – if it is seen, the Election Commission can close the entire election. The law minister said, ‘The power to stop voting in all centers is not being given due to chaos and violence at two or three o’clock. This means that it is not against democracy. Because the Election Commission cannot stop the elections that have been held properly, where the people have democratically exercised their right to vote. If it could stop, it would be undemocratic. On March 28, the cabinet gave in-principle approval to the proposal to amend the Election Act (Representation of the People Order-RPO) ahead of the next parliamentary elections. Apart from this, submission of copies of TIN and tax return filing, possibility of appeal against the selection of candidates even if they are valid, extension of the promised target of 33 percent women representation in party registration from 2020 to 2030 and punishment for obstructing the work of media workers or destroying the equipment while collecting poll news. The bill contains several proposals including provisions.

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