By Syed Badrul Ahsan
Former Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda has come forth with a suggestion that calls for serious and purposeful discussion. The names of individuals shortlisted for the positions of CEC and Election Commissioners, he has said, should be publicized through the media in order for public scrutiny to be applied to an examination of the ability or otherwise of the nominees for the Election Commission. Coming from a person whose high reputation as CEC under the last caretaker regime remains impeccable, the idea must not be ignored. Men like Huda do not make frivolous statements. On his watch, in company with his colleagues Sakhawat Hossain and Sohul Hossain, a properly fair and transparent election was gone through by Bangladesh’s people in December 2008. That is a record not many in the history of the Election Commission have been able to equal.
The suggestion that the names of all nominees for the top positions at the Election Commission, as they appear on the shortlist, be made known to citizens has some clear advantages. In the first place, if and when the principle of a publicizing of names is accepted, it will become incumbent on the President and on the party in power to ensure that only individuals with proven careers in probity are considered for the EC. Again, once the names appear in the media, a rigorous procedure can be applied, both by the media and citizens across the board, in examining the suitability as well as the background of the individuals named on the shortlist. An additional advantage that could accrue from such a process would be a guarantee that those being considered for positions in the EC will not be swayed by their individual political preferences and will not be ready or willing, voluntarily or otherwise, to kowtow before the powers that be. In simple terms, Huda’s proposal aims at a promotion of ability and professionalism in the Election Commission.
The former CEC’s ideas quite predictably propel one into a consideration of the changes that are required in other areas. A particular region is the Anti-Corruption Commission. The general discipline and professionalism which underpinned the working of the ACC when it operated under Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury ought to be given a rethink. Since it is not in our democracy for candidates for high office to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny or hearings before their appointments can be confirmed or rejected, the best option one can fall back on is, yes, again the media. But, of course, the media too will need to be scrupulous in their assessments of the persons considered for positions in the ACC or EC or in such organizations as the National Human Rights Commission. Journalists, like everyone else, certainly have their personal take on national politics. But if it clouds their judgment in critical areas of policy, it can only exacerbate matters.
But, of course, in all these reflections relating to Shamsul Huda’s proposal and all the good that can come of it, we are speaking of an ideal situation. We notice that not much comment has been generated by the proposal; and the major political parties have maintained silence on it. That, however, does not detract from the thought that a wholesale fresh approach to the formation of bodies such as the Election Commission, given the suspicions which continue to govern ties between the major political parties, is in order. For democracy to dig deeper roots, it is important that changes take place constantly, that reforms come in all the time. And in our particular circumstances, where pluralism often remains hostage both to semi-feudalism and a culture of silence, change is the mechanism that can give democracy a meaningful push.
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BD News 24, December 21, 2016