South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Election Commission seeks to empower voters to file complaints with the commission against members of parliament if they conceal information or furnish false information about themselves in the affidavit submitted in the run up to parliamentary elections.

The EC also wants the authority to cancel election of such MPs, and declare their seats in the parliament vacant.

The commission drafted proposals to bring changes in the Representation of the People Order (RPO) to that end. The Daily Star obtained a copy of the electoral reform proposals.

According to the proposals, on receiving a complaint form voters, the EC may order an inquiry into the allegation by a competent agency.

After receiving the inquiry report, if the EC is satisfied that the allegation is true, it may give the accused MP a reasonable opportunity to explain his or her position before declaring the seat in parliament vacant, the proposals said.

Through the reforms the EC wants to plug the loopholes regarding providing of personal information by electoral candidates.

“A person shall be disqualified for election as or for being, a member of parliament if he has furnished false information in the nomination paper or affidavit which he knows and has reason to believe to be false or conceals any information in the nomination paper or affidavit,” one of the EC’s proposals said.

Another proposal said no application filed with Returning Officers seeking candidacy will be accepted if the applicant fails to provide all necessary information and documents including those mentioned in the affidavit.

The EC said the proposals were made to stop concealment of information or furnishing of false information in the affidavits.

Following a Supreme Court verdict, the electoral laws were changed before the last general election, introducing mandatory submission of eight point particulars of candidates.

According to the provision, an individual willing to contest in the poll must submit — an attested copy of the certificate of his or her highest educational qualification; whether he or she is accused of any criminal offence; whether the applicant has any past criminal record, and, if any, the judgment of the case; description of his or her profession or business; probable sources of income; a statement of property or debt of his or her own or of the dependents; etc.

The information submitted by applicants in affidavits along with their applications for candidacies are publicised by returning officers among voters of the constituencies concerned, so the voters may know about the candidates.

But the existing provision does not specify anything about what will happen if any candidate, after being elected an MP, is found guilty of concealing information or providing false information.

Some EC officials said the commission moved to plug the legal loophole in light of its experience of failure to take actions against two MPs — BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, and Jatiya Party Secretary General ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader.

Both of them, now lawmakers of the ninth parliament, provided incomplete information about their educational qualifications in the affidavits, and as per electoral laws they were supposed to be declared disqualified from contesting in the polls.

But on their verbal promise that they would submit copies of certificates of their educational qualifications “as early as possible”, the EC allowed them to contest in the general election held on December 29, 2008.

Later, their refusal to submit the copies of their educational certificates prompted the EC to write to them on April 13, 2009 asking them to submit the copies required by May 31 the same year. But they did not follow the EC’s order.

The Jatiya Party lawmaker moved to the Supreme Court challenging the EC’s letter. The matter is still pending with the court.

In June, 2009 the EC wrote to the speaker of parliament to scrap Salauddin’s membership in the parliament on grounds of suppressing educational information while seeking candidacy for the December 29 poll. But the speaker sent back the issue to the EC saying he had nothing to do regarding the matter.

Amid such a situation, the EC moved to change the electoral laws concerned. EC officials believe if the proposed changes are made the system will be stronger and the electorates will be more empowered.

If the proposals are made into law, alongside the contesting candidates, voters will also be empowered to file complaints with the EC any time even after an election against any MP if he or she concealed any information or provided false information.

The current system allows an electoral candidate to file an appeal with the EC within a certain period against his or her rival’s legitimacy as a candidate on grounds of concealing information.

A losing candidate also has the opportunity to file a petition with the Election Tribunal challenging the poll result within 45 days of the result’s publication in the official gazette.

But under the current system voters have no recourse once the poll result is officially published.

The EC also proposed to bar employees of recognised intermediate colleges and secondary schools from contesting in parliamentary polls.

An individual who has been declared fugitive from justice by a court of law or a tribunal will also be disqualified form contesting in the polls, the proposals said.

The EC will begin a dialogue with political parties in June seeking their opinions on the proposals.

Source: Daily Star – 30.05.2011