EC to allow ministers, MPs to campaign in municipal polls
07 November 2015, Nirapad News: In what is clearly a surprising, even unprecedented move, the Election Commission has proposed that ministers and lawmakers and some others holding government office be allowed to campaign for candidates in the municipal polls.
These polls will be held along party lines for the first time in the country’s history.
The EC has suggested that ministers and MPs can take part in campaigning for candidates backed by their parties.
But the EC move comes with a caveat. The ministers and MPs cannot use government resources for the campaign. That drew criticism from a former election commissioner.
The EC’s recommendations in the form of a draft electoral code of conduct has been sent to the law ministry, Election Commissioner Md Shah Nawaz told journalists at his office on Thursday.
The ministry will now finalise the details, he added.
In his reaction to the EC’s latest move, former election commissioner Mohammad Sohul Hossain said such an electoral code would undermine the principle of neutrality in these polls and help the ruling party.
The EC, it may be recalled, plans to conduct elections to around 250 out of the more than 300 municipalities in December this year.
An ordinance has already been issued on amendments to the electoral law, clearing hurdles to the polls being organised on the basis of party lines.
The electoral code of conduct, amended in keeping with the law, is now awaiting the ministry’s approval.
The previous law did not allow ministers, MPs and city mayors to campaign in municipal polls.
Under the amended law, the ‘important persons enjoying government facilities’ are the prime minister, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, ministers, chief whip, opposition leader, deputy leader of parliament, state ministers, deputy ministers or people holding equivalent posts, members of parliament and city corporation mayors.
If the electoral code is amended as per the EC’s recommendations, all these individuals will be able to campaign for their candidates without taking recourse to state resources.
They, however, will avail of the security they are entitled to.
Since the polls are being held along party lines, the code of conduct too is being modified in a way similar to the code applicable for parliamentary elections, Sohul Hossain told bdnews24.com.
Many are of the opinion that this electoral code may quite vitiate the atmosphere of these polls.
“It will be an unjust code of conduct. It is better to keep ministers and MPs away from local elections. If they are allowed [to get involved in the polls], the ruling party will always enjoy an extra advantage,” said Sohul, who served as election commissioner between 2007 and 2012.
“If the code comes into effect, the [municipal] election will lose its neutrality. I am shocked at the current EC’s move. Didn’t anyone in the commission oppose this?” said a visibly worried Sohul.
Criticising the EC’s recommendations, BNP Standing Committee Member Mahbubur Rahman said the government was ensuring its absolute influence on the polls.
“If one gets the chance to campaign, one will take the protocol and protection one is entitled to. Against such exercise of influence, rival candidates won’t stand a chance. This election will not ensure a level-playing field. It will put election officials in a difficult situation and lead to an increase violence,” he told bdnews24.com.
Asked if the BNP would participate in the municipal elections, the army-chief-turned-politician said the matter would be decided in the party forum.
For his part, Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, thinks removing the bar on “important people” of the government from taking part in the campaign will impact adversely on the neutral nature of the election.
“Neutrality won’t be there. When ministers go to an area to campaign for a certain candidate, rival candidates will be at a disadvantage. We are against this recommendation.”