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Election Reforms and Political Stability !

Akbaruddin Ahmad

Computer & Financial Consultant and Treasurer
Darul Ihsan University, Bangladesh.

: The urgency for a national consensus to formulate a reforms program for the various tiers of elections for the local government and the parliament for choosing the elected representatives need not be over-emphasized. These reforms have become critical in order to give some credibility to our hard earned statehood. The impact of a reforms package shall be felt soon after it is implemented and will also have long-term implications on improved governance.

Election Commission – EC Image Building: This constitutional body has been a constant figure of discontent with the opposition. A serious rift amongst the chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the several Election Commissioners (ECs) have further complicated matters with just short time away in making final arrangements for the next national elections. Efforts for improving the image of the EC as a non-partisan institution is required to be developed. It is essential that the EC is strengthened and the support that it gets from successive governments will determine the extent of the level of democracy that is taking roots within the constitutional framework. The EC’s primary role to ensure timely and free and fair conduct of the state election processes will be an indicator of the success of this national institution of prime importance. The composition of the EC with its senior support staff members of unquestionable character, ability and integrity will generate the required confidence within the political parties, intelligentsia and the masses.  

Constitutional Amendments: Certain constitutional amendments have to be made in order to ensure its independence and autonomy. The selection and postings of the officials are matters of the Establishment Ministry and not controlled by the Commission. Declaration of election results locally is done by the TNOs and DCs. The Election Commission’s current role is more of a policy making body and does not have the resources to implement election programs on its own. It has to depend entirely on the capabilities, whims and fancies of the various government agencies including the TNOs and the DCs. This whole system is definitely defective. The EC should be given adequate financial and administrative powers for the smooth functioning and conduct of all elections. Judicial powers with the appointment of judicial officers under the administrative control of the EC to form the tribunals to conduct all cases pertaining to elections will ensure timely disposal of such matters. Currently, election cases at the district tribunal level takes a long time much to the disgust of the affected candidates. 

Election Results Manipulations:  There remains ample scope for manipulation of election results at the field level. The production of defective ID cards are still quite fresh in peoples mind. Sometimes we feel that even the current voters list preparation is not at all accurate. There has been an abnormal increase of over 100 lacs voters in a short time. How could this happen! The whole process speaks of lack of seriousness on part of the field staff and the supervisory staff at the various Thana, district and headquarter levels. Matters of concern and suspicion have arisen that require professional handling on an urgent basis.

Credibility Gap: Weaknesses within the existing EC systems have seriously eroded the public confidence for the EC as a viable and credible institution in its present form. These have resulted in a situation where the intelligentsia and the common man have expressed their genuine concern whether the EC is truly non-partisan in character and composition. The appointments of the Chief, Members and top officials at the EC has been a matter of opposition criticism and viewed with suspicion. The government must ensure consensus of major political parties in respect of appointments to such sensitive positions.

Internal Working of EC: The success in the management of this institution with its present structure depends to a large extent on the quality of leadership provided by the incumbent Chief and his two deputies at the EC. These are constitutional positions and are, therefore, reasonably secure for at least the period for which they are appointed. The Chief with the two/three Members should, therefore, be in a position to perform independently without any fear or favor. On account of the inherent weaknesses within the EC systems, however much the Chief and the three Member EC tries, all will be in vain because the EC does not have the requisite powers to make them effective.

Indian EC – Continuous Audit: The Indian EC is much more effective than ours. We remember the powers wielded by the past Indian EC Chief Sheshan. In India, the curse of over spending for election expenses are glaring like in our country. India has introduced the system of continuous audit during the election period. In Bangladesh, I do not seem to have heard of any audit being carried out by the EC or its appointed agents to ensure transparency in election expenses within limits specified by law.

Implementation & Monitoring: There are many laws governing the conduct of elections and code of conduct of the participants. The main problem lies in its implementation and monitoring. For confidence building it is necessary that the EC Members whatever be their past political affiliations, if any, must remain non-partisan to generate the desired confidence before the next ensuing national elections. The public at large and the opposition parties in particular have not been too willing to accept lapses on part of the EC functionality. The government has further compounded the problem by appointment of a Chief and a Commissioner at a very critical juncture without the consensus of all the major parties. We fail to understand the rationale of such hurried appointments without taking the opposition into confidence. The ruling party must realize that by taking a positive action they are basically setting a tradition. A precedent once set is bound to be repeated which in turn shall usher in a sense of goodwill and understand. The main policy advisors to the party chiefs must convey this message and assist in creating an environment whereby all concerned understand very clearly that they are not here to stay in power till infinity. 

Limitations of the President: In this respect, I firmly believe the President who appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and Commissioners on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (PM), should be in a position to exercise restraint and put moral pressure on the PM for reconsideration of candidacy of the Chief or any other constitutional appointments with only with a broad consensus of major political parties. In this regard, the incumbent President may be powerless. He cannot do anything on his own without the tacit clearance of the cabinet and or the PM. This particular aspect of the President’s balancing role for checks and internal control can be achieved if the Parliament passes a law whereby the Head of State is given adequate powers to circumvent problematic situations. These special situations are visible only in a quasi-democratic set up that is gradually taking shape.

Caretaker Government: The unique principle of a caretaker government is quite new and not found in other developed democracies. For some reason, this concept of a caretaker administration gives an idea to an outsider that the party in power cannot be trusted and as such on the expiry of the term of office, the party in power has to resign and hand-over power to a caretaker/interim government for a limited time frame of 30 days only to make necessary arrangements for a party to be elected to take charge and form a government. This inherent mistrust is rather unfortunate. The system of caretaker administration must remain for a very limited period of time so that the parties in question can develop into institutions of trust. A time frame may be 10 years i.e. two more terms of the parliament may be decided by the parliament so that the nation can dispense with the system of caretaker government. The President adequately needs to be empowered so that democracy can flourish. The Prime Minister will not become dictatorial if a balance can be maintained. These matters require further studies by the civil society leaders to counter any ill effects being viewed with great concern and apprehension in respect of the emergence of a third force through some unholy alliance of adventurers.

Use of the Armed Forces, BDR, & Police: During peace time the role of the armed forces is supposedly minimal. However, in times of emergencies like cyclone and floods they are put to action to distribute food and even build homes for the distressed. The cost of maintaining such a big armed forces is not at all practicable. Our neighbor is just too big for us and it is foolish to raise and maintain at such exorbitant costs an army that just cannot match the powers of our neighbor. Why on earth are we wasting this huge amount of money on a regular basis that is easily 25% of our annual national budgeted expenditure. The question is can we afford this luxury! We should sign a no war pact with all our neighbors and maintain a neutral stance. The money saved can go towards poverty alleviation, education and Medicare. Till such time a decision in this regard is taken, the armed forces should be used for the conduct of elections for all tiers of local government and parliament. Their presence can help in the maintenance of law and order. The pooling can take place in a disciplined manner. The BDR and the police forces should also be used for election purposes. While I am in favor of increasing the number of BDR units to genuinely check smuggling, I am also of the opinion that the police forces need thorough re-organization and training and an immediate increase in their numbers. The armed forces should gradually be reduced over three years and the redundant officers and staff may be offered a golden handshake or given the option to join the BDR and Police. We are aware that the past and present governments sent troops to the UN for peace- keeping efforts and thereby earned some foreign exchange. I am sure that as a peace-loving country, we should not indulge in sending our troops to fight in some foreign lands at the explicit request of the UN and to earn some extra buck as a quasi- mercenary. I do not think that our constitution allows such behavior and actions.               

Use of Technology: In the past, the voters lists prepared by the Election Commission during General Ershad’s regime was done by using the outdated, obsolete letter press. It was a national waste indeed! Computers were available then and if the recording and processing was done by using state of the art equipment, the nation would have saved several hundred crore takas. The same database could have been used for several purposes including the national census. It would have been relatively inexpensive and a matter of routine if the data was updated at regular intervals. What is most amazing is the tendency of the concerned decision makers to pass the responsibility on some one else and make hay while the sun shines. The technology is available, manpower is ready and I am sure finances should also be readily available considering the nature of such a critical application of national importance. The financial wastages made so far should be subject of an inquiry so that such monetary loses are not incurred again. The bureaucrats involved must be brought to books as the general tendency is for them to get away very cleverly and put the blame on the politicians. Hi-tech equipment readily available must be used for election purposes in areas of election planning, financial control, voter list preparation, and human resource management, voting and monitoring activities. The private sector participation is essential in form of management consultants, advisors, professional auditors and “IT” specialists. Local expertise is definitely available.

Political Will: What is most lacking is probably the political will for implementing such an important project of national importance. It is a matter of setting priorities right. Apart from the elected representatives, the role of the bureaucrats as advisors to the political leadership also comes in. On matters of national importance all political parties must forge consensus. Opposition for the sake of opposing any policy tabled by the treasury bench members will definitely not bear fruitful results. The political will for strengthening the electoral process is the need of the hour. Transparency and fair play is required to be engrained in our political set-up.

Political Parties Democratic Set-up: The political parties have a duty towards the nation. Each party in its manifesto must very clearly indicate the natural evolution of various tiers of political leadership. Concentration of powers in the hands of a few is bound to have a negative impact in the development of political parties and its leadership. We have often seen in the past how a vacuum created either intentionally or otherwise within the party ranks has stifled the growth of qualified leaders. This will largely depend on the democratization of the political institutions. The system of dynastic rule has to be dispensed with. The path has to be cleared for honest, dedicated, dynamic and educated leadership to grow. This prescription will be tough for the existing leaders to accept gracefully. However, failing to do so promptly will trigger the voting powers of the electorate and the will of the masses will take over. South Asia has seen many changes in the recent past in several countries. Bangladesh has tried and tested several options and it appears all the parties have miserably failed. A government of national alliance is probably the need of the hour.      

Role of Bureaucrats: The officers in senior positions are reasonably well looked after by the government. Houses, transports, local and overseas traveling and other perquisites including pension are a huge drain on the limited national resources. The taxpayers and the public at large are paying for the services of these officers and staff. The government servants have a moral responsibility and have an important role to play in assisting the politicians and policy makers in evolving a better strategy acceptable to the nation as far as the election process is concerned. The mental make-up of these officials has to change. They must realize that they are permanent fixtures within the government and that they have a pro-people role to play. The colonial style of operations has to be discarded. Their training and orientation have to be reviewed in order to serve the people as a public servant and not as masters or a tool for the party in power as was done during the British days and post partition times by the West Pakistani domiciled officers. This policy has continued even after our liberation. As a government official once remarked that they can be compared with a prostitute. Every successive political government uses them for their own political purposes and these unfortunate officers follow their master’s voice. These officials are trained to be obedient to even the most corrupt and inefficient political minister. This change is more evident after the ministers have become the chief executive of the ministries concerned. In the past it was the secretary and the role of the minister was more advisory in nature.

Voting Rights: To ensure the voting rights of the duly registered voters is the primary responsibility of the EC. Systems have to be evolved to organize voting in a manner that every adult citizen is allowed unhindered his or her option to vote. The EC along with the entire police, Para-military forces and the army should be deployed to ensure safety and security of the voters and the contestants. The security aspects are of paramount importance to ensure large turn out of voters both males and females. In places of high security risks the number of voters going to the pooling stations are low. This can cause a distorted voting pattern and the election results shall be the true reflection of the active participation or otherwise of the people. In many instances, voters have gone to the pooling booth to exercise their franchise but have been deprived from doing so because somebody else had cast their vote intentionally in collusion with the pooling officers. This is a very common practice and must be stopped in order to bring some credibility to the whole election process. There have also been instances where the voters’ rights were snatched away by organized hoodlums and vote dacoits supporting a specific party. The success of democracy will depend largely on proper education of the masses in respect of the electoral processes. The grass root level operators like the national NGOs can contribute towards this type of educational program in a big way. The voters rights and responsibilities and their individual choice of the contesting candidates can be highlighted to assist the uneducated men and women in making the correct application of their power and rights to vote. In a recent seminar of the Governance Coalition, a group of several national NGOs and think tank, it was correctly observed that the entire nation is held a hostage in respect of the deteriorating law and order situation in Bangladesh. The right to vote can be ensured only by providing an environment conducive and secure in respect of the life and property of the citizens.

Use of Smart Cards/ID Cards: The most effective method shall be the introduction of hi-tech equipment and systems to replace the obsolete and faulty manual system of casting vote, counting and recording the same in manual forms and statements which are easily prone to rigging and manipulation. The “ID” card should be a smart card like you have the plastics for credit cards and ATMs. These cards will have multiple purposes with unique identification number for the voter that shall be used for his/her driving license, bank account opening/identification, pension withdrawal, voting for all tiers of local government, passport application, gun license etc. This system will ensure none else other than the holder of the smart card shall have the right to vote. False voting will thus be eliminated. The voting power of the masses will determine the election of suitable candidates to the various elected positions. Muscle power and use of ill-gotten black money will be greatly reduced in the election process. Useless spending of huge amounts of money on election campaigns will be curtailed. Qualified candidates will get the votes as chances of wholesale bungling and vote rigging will be drastically reduced. With improvements in the telecommunication infrastructure within our country, adequate equipment, software and training services should be procured on a priority basis to implement the automation program for future elections. In India, on experimental basis, during the last national elections, electronic equipment was used with success. In order to make such projects successful, the private sector has to be involved with technology and ideas. Funding has to be arranged by the government to finance such a project. Like any other large project of national importance, the Election Commission Automation Project (ECAP) could be offered to interested Local/Foreign organization on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. I am confident that international financial institutions will support such a project. Professional handling by an autonomous institution without the interference of the government can do the job with a combination of national and international consultants.

Strengthening the Election Commission (EC): It shall be in the greater national interest if efforts are made by all concerned to strengthen the EC. In order to make democracy meaningful and workable, it is essential to make all institutions connected with the election process fully viable and credible organizations. At all levels, democracy has to be established. If we just talk about election for the various tiers of local government and the parliament in isolation to the political party leadership that up to now has been quite autocratic in nature, I am afraid that the democratic system will not easily survive. There is a very valuable saying that charity begins at home. The political leaders have to understand this situation and gracefully agree to the concept of democracy within the party. I have been witness to several council meetings at the thana, district and national levels where to my utter surprise and horror, the opportunity was not given for holding party elections. Instead, the major party higher-ups were authorized to nominate a committee and appoint the key office bearers. In some cases, the national secretary general and in others, the district president of the party was asked to nominate the office bearers of the district and thana respectively. For any educated person such a system would appear farcical. If a political party for matters of expediency decides to trample on democracy and take up the path of autocracy then indeed the question of evolution of a democratic system in Bangladesh will remain a far cry. In order to make the workings of the EC meaningful, all the political parties, NGOs and other civil society institutions are required to extend a helping hand to assist the EC implement a nonpartisan blueprint for the conduct of fair elections and smooth transfer of power. For the EC to become more effective, the political parties have to become more organized and accountable which should include transparency in the maintenance of accounts, fund raising, submission of annual audit reports to the EC and maintenance of a membership register that should remain open for inspection.

EC Advisory Council: This council may become a quasi-statutory body comprising members/representatives of political parties, ADAB, NGOs, think tanks, FEMA, Chambers of Commerce, Trade & Industry, members drawn from the bureaucracy viz. cabinet and home secretary, principal secretary to the PM & the President, the establishment secretary, the chiefs of the three services (Army, Air-force & Navy), chiefs of NSI, DGFI, BDR & Police and chiefs of major financial institutions and some noted educationists and members of professional bodies viz. IMC,ICMA, ICAB, BCS, Mahila Sangstha, representatives of doctors, teachers, engineers, agriculturists, trade union representatives etc.   This Council should meet on a regular basis to formulate and advise the EC on its operational policy. In times to come this body could take another shape in a few years from now. This could be the nucleus for the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament that should be considered for the near future.

Increase in number of Parliamentary Seats: There has been a formidable increase in the number of voters and the population. Soon we shall be a nation 30 years old. We had started with 300 seats in the national parliament. Later we added 30 reserved seats for the women MPs to be elected through indirect election by the elected MPs only. There is a general demand for the increase in the number of seats for the MPs representing the increased population. Also there is a genuine demand for the increase of women seats in the parliament through direct elections to be participated only by the female voters. The numbers vary from 64 representing the political districts to 150 i.e. 50% of the present numerical strength of the MPs in the existing parliament. Whatever be the increase, the parliament must convene an extra-ordinary session to debate this matter in the presence of the opposition MPs. It will be highly rewarding for the AL government to make the environment conducive for the opposition MPs to participate.

Role of Speaker & Deputy Speaker: In this context, the role of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Whip and the Secretary of the Parliament will be vital in creating the right atmosphere to welcome the opposition MPs. Their more than frequent overseas travels must stop and they should concentrate more in the home front. What a shame when a poor country like ours is squandering national wealth in a most preposterous manner in foreign travels. Apart from the personal benefits of the incumbent delegate, the nation does not derive much advantage whatsoever. Such immature actions fall under the category of imprudent spending for which the concerned VIPS are liable for explanation. The partisan outlook of the Speaker and his Deputy must change. As a matter of fact, persons holding these two important positions must severe all connections with the ruling party concerned as soon as they assume these elected high offices. In this regard necessary laws are required to be enacted. This will be for the greater interest of the smooth functioning of the Parliament. The present absence of the opposition MPs from the parliament is to a large extent attributable to the mishandling by the Speaker and his Deputy. Their partisan role has tarnished the image of the Parliament.

Ruling Party’s Goodwill: The ruling party is required to be a little more discreet, generous, understanding and magnanimous and at least tries to fulfill the genuine opposition demands. These are face-saving devices and helps in the process of improving the image of the political parties and the working of the Parliament when all MPs are participating and making the parliament effective. Time is running out and one can only hope that the two major parties can sort out the question of the reserved seats for women and amending the constitution for increasing the number of seats in the next parliament. Proper conduct of politics in a more mature fashion by the political parties will earn them the respect that has been eroded for quite sometime for their follies.                        

Nomination of Candidates: With the emergence of practically a two party system, the responsibility lies on the party stalwarts to give nomination for the parliamentary elections persons who are reputed to be dedicated, sincere, honest and educated. People are genuinely interested in extending their support to the qualified candidates. Irrespective of party affiliations, a voter given the option to exercise his free will shall definitely cast his vote in favor of an individual who in his opinion is honest and hard working. It is, therefore, essential for the political parties to nominate good persons with impeccable backgrounds for the good of their party and the country as a whole. Money should not be the yardstick for selection of party candidates. The voters have become very conscious and are fully aware of the wrong doings perpetuated by the aspirants and /or their party.

Political Fund Raising: This subject has been in existence since time immemorial. It is high time that the fund raising should be transparent and subject to audit by the public certified auditors. The only way to check rampant corruption is by making this process as transparent as possible. For the sake of party funding, higher-ups within a political system are involved in generating funds for future agitation programs and electioneering campaigns. All receipts and expenses of political parties should be subject to scrutiny by auditors appointed by the Election Commission.

Government Financing of Candidates: Political parties must encourage financing qualified candidates for various elections. This will allow good people to come forward and actively take part in the elections even though they may not have surplus funds to contest on their own. In my opinion, it may also be worthwhile for the government to finance individual candidates desirous of contesting the national elections. A suitable mechanism can be worked out for speedy disbursement of funds through a nominated nationalized bank on the acceptance by the EC the application of the proposed contestant. Accounts shall have to be maintained by the recipient of such funds that will be audited by the auditors appointed by the EC. The overall wastage of money in the election process will be drastically reduced that will save the nation from the effects of ill-gotten wealth used for these purposes. For every job offer there is a minimum qualification criteria.

Qualification of Candidates: What is very interesting is when an interviewer posed a question to a top Indian politician in respect of minimum educational qualification of a contestant; the reply did not impress me at all. This senior politician just evaded the question and said a formal education was perhaps not required. He mentioned about many self-made persons. Well there are such individuals seen quite seldom though and as such, matters could not be generalized. It may be worthwhile to fix minimum educational criteria for a contestant. Some people shall be affected but in the long run, it will definitely be a boon for the country.   

Government Funding of Political Parties: In order to curb undisclosed sources of party funding, it is required to pass a law whereby the government will finance political parties based on their general membership strengths and number of MPs. Here again the EC will have an important role as a monitor to scrutinize the membership registers, collection of fees/ subscriptions/donations etc.  External auditors should be appointed to assist the EC to render professional advice and service in this regard. All these activities and functions of the parties should be computerized for greater efficiency and transparency of operations to highlight the sources and application of funds.

BCS Election Cadre: With the current limitations of the EC being wholly dependent on officials at the Thana, district and head quarter levels, it is imperative for the EC to have its own cadre of officials. This will enable the EC to function independently without having to rely on the integrity and honesty of officials over whom the EC has no administrative control. The EC cadre officials will be trained for conduct of the elections for all tiers of local government and the parliament. These officers will receive the judicial and administrative orientation that will be necessary to professionally manage such an important institution. Instead of the DCs & TNOs, the EC officials will be the returning and assistant returning officers. Under no circumstances should the DCS & the TNOs be involved in the Election process. These positions have become so much politicized that people have lost all faith in the integrity and honesty of these officials. I am positive that there are some very honest and brilliant officers at the district and Thana levels. However, by and large, these are extremely rare commodities. To be honest, the political and administrative system has made these administrative cadre officials what they are today. Their wings require to be clipped so that they perform better and are made accountable.

Accountability of the Bureaucracy: Since the British days, and later during the period from 1947 onwards up to 1971, the central superior service officers (CSP) were considered to be of a different class. They were required to be outstanding and meritorious in order to compete on a national scale. The net result was the creation of a class of white- collar government executives completely separate from their provincial colleagues who were considered to be a class below in their educational background, upbringing, merit etc. With the creation of a sovereign state of Bangladesh, all the members of the central superior services were merged with their less competent colleagues from the erstwhile provincial services cadres of East Pakistan. Soon after the emergence of Bangladesh, very hurriedly a large number of officials were recruited by the AL government and absorbed in the various cadres within the government departments. These were very special circumstances and young officers were required to man the various departments of an independent nation. These officers today have risen to the ranks of joint secretary and above with the passage of over 25 years. In the meantime, most of the superior service officers (CSPs) have since retired with the exception of a very few who are also due to retire in the next few years time. There is practically no accountability on part of the government officials of all cadres. This is indeed a very strange situation. In order for an individual to perform there has to be proper evaluation and monitoring of his skills and abilities. Based on the length of service only, many inefficient officers and staff have got promotions to higher levels which under normal circumstances would never have been possible.

Accountability of the Judiciary: The political leadership of late has questioned the accountability of the higher judiciary. This has caused resentment in some circles. It is a matter of fact that thousands of cases are pending in the higher and lower courts in Bangladesh. Justice delayed is justice denied. The PM has expressed her dismay at the present state of affairs at the higher courts for which she has been charged with contempt of court by a large section of lawyers. The case is pending hearing to begin after the vacation. It seems to be very strange that till now, nobody has ever raised the accountability question of the bureaucrats. As and when the judiciary is separated, their operations will definitely undergo certain changes to meet the realities and expectations of a relatively new nation. None is above law! Suitable amendments to the constitution can bring about transparency and accountability of the courts.

Martial Law Regimes: It has been seen during the Pakistan period in particular and also in contemporary Bangladesh period that all martial law governments had the full backing and support of the bureaucracy but minimal support from the judiciary. Those judges who held their principles preferred to resign. Others however, agreed to take oaths separately extending their allegiance to the military rulers. It is during these abnormal periods that the bureaucrats were the biggest beneficiaries and exercised more powers in the absence of the elected MPs and Ministers. On account of inherent defects in the administrative system, a secretary was able to save his skin while a minister had to quit whenever there was a difference of opinion in the past. In a recent address to the Security Council by the PM, she has castigated the usurpers of powers by extra constitutional means. This has to be engrained in the system so that no adventurers ever dare to take up arms against the elected representatives. The entire comity of nations is against the martial law regimes. The former usurpers of powers and their accomplices must stand trial so that it becomes a deterrent action for the future.  

Ban on Elections by Civil Servants: The stranglehold of the bureaucracy over the entire administrative machinery has been so strong that this group has always been able to get away with practically every successive government. Their style of operation is similar to that of the mafias. The recent popular uprising against the BNP regime in 1996 is a testimony of this fact when civil servants delivered fiery speeches in the “Janata’s Mancha” without maintaining their impartial stand as public servant. This has set a bad precedent! Interestingly, the AL adequately rewarded the leaders of the civil servants that took active part in bringing down the BNP government. Indeed this is an irony of fate! These civil servants can easily form a political party. If they wish to contest in the national elections, they must resign and then contest after a lapse of at least five years. Under no circumstances should they use their official position to influence the election. We need a level playing grounds for all contestants. A law is urgently required to ban government officials from contesting in national elections of all tiers soon after retirement. A minimum period of 5 years gap has to be specified. The civil servants have enjoyed such privileges as were established by the colonial rulers. It is strange that none of the governments since the British left this territory 53 years back had the vision to re-organize the bureaucracy. This is a shame that this group constitute one of the most corrupt institutions in present times. This situation has been created particularly on account of the quality and competence of the ministers and the MPs that has not been entirely up to the nation’s expectations. The political leadership has not been able to reign in these corrupt, inefficient elements because of their own weaknesses. There are exceptions however, but on the whole the bureaucrats have cleverly realized the abilities of the aforesaid political administrators and they tend to take full advantage of the situation.  

Human Resource Development:  It may be interesting to note here that not the best brains go to the government services. In the USA, the best students go for computer science, engineering and medicine. It is way down the ladder that students opt for government jobs. May be seventh in order of ranking. Even in Bangladesh, the better students are not willing to compete and accept government jobs with low salaries and high risk for corruption. Instead, their preference is to become a professional with wide overseas acceptability. There have been several attempts in the past to reform the administration. It is currently in a pitiable condition. This in on account of the sub standard quality of the officers and staff, lack of proper monitoring of their performance, non accountability and above all insincerity, indecision and corruption. Such a bloated bureaucratic set up is unthinkable in a modern world. Who pays for all this extra manpower! At least 30% officers and staff of all government managed Banks, corporations, departments and ministries have to be trimmed in order to save some funds for development purposes. A golden handshake is the answer to solve this problem of excess staff. Technology is required to be used extensively and re-orientation of officers and staff at all levels needed. Above all, the government officials have to become pro-people if they ever wish to get the respect of the people. Instead of creating impediments these officers should be advised to become supportive. They have to become part of the development process and merge with the masses. Their peculiar training and mental make-up requires a transformation to be able to remove obstacles and pave the way for their greater acceptability amongst the rural, town and city dwellers. Government officials constitute the permanent set up of the government support machinery.  Political parties may come and go but the government officials continue to perform till they die, retire, resign or are removed from service. They are expected to guide in the continuity of policies and plans and are the implementing and executing arm of the government. Their importance need not be over-emphasized. This entire group needs the much-required motivation in order that they perform to their best of their abilities.

Women’s Participation in Elections: The possibility of direct election for women seats reserved is a good idea. Constituencies have to be demarcated and only women will be allowed to vote and select their representatives. In case a minimum of 64 seats are reserved representing the 64 thanas, it will initially be a difficult task for the participants. However, as time passes and the mode of transportation improves, campaigning will become easier. The demand is for a minimum of 150 seats for women. In this case, some suitable formula has to be evolved say one seats for each thana and one for each municipality. For metropolitan areas the number of seats could be higher because of the number of women voter concentration in such areas. Women should definitely be encouraged to participate in election and take part in the nation building activity. Orientation programs covering a wide variety of subjects including political science, human rights, legal aid, health and hygiene, poverty alleviation, non-formal education and general administration inclusive of accounts and audit will help in the broadening of the vision of the women participants.

Conclusion: The political leadership, civil society leaders, the government and all the professional groups must forge an understanding on all common issues affecting the citizen’s right to vote, education, healthcare, housing, food and security of life and property. The reforms in the election process as discussed above is only a means for achieving some important objectives of understanding, goodwill, economic emancipation, growth and maturity of democratic institutions. Our hard earned freedom at the cost of the blood of martyrs should not be allowed go in vain. Each of us have a duty to perform and contribute our mite for the greater well-being of the nation that can live up to the expectations of the present generation and act as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the posterity.

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