Bangladesh could face a protracted political crisis in the Lead-up to the 2013 elections unless Prime Minister SheikhHasina’s government changes course and take a more conciliatory approach towards the political opposition and the military. In December 2008, following two years of a military-backed caretaker government, the Awami League (AL) secured a landslide victory in what were widely acknowledged to be the fairest elections in the country’s history.
The hope, both at home and abroad, was that Sheikh Hasina would use her mandate to revitalize democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, ending the pernicious cycle of zero-sum politics between her AL and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Three and a half years on, hope has been replaced by deep disillusion-meant, as two familiar threats to Bangladesh’s democracy have returned: the prospect of election-related violence and the risks stemming from an unstable and hostile military.
Instead of changing the old pattern of politics, the AL gov- ernment has systematically used parliament, the executive and the courts to reinforce it, including by filing corruption cases against Khaleda Zia, the BNP chairperson, and employing security agencies to curb opposition activities. Most worrying, however, is the AL-dominated parliament’s adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the constitution, which scraps a provision mandating the formation of a neutral caretaker administration to oversee general elections.
The caretaker system was a major practical and psycho-Logical barrier to election-rigging by the party in power. Removing it has undermined opposition parties’ confidence in the electoral system. If the AL does not reverse course and accept such a caretaker, the chances of an opposition boycott of the 2013 elections are high and with it a return to the de-pressingly familiar pattern of zero-sum political competition between the AL and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) that led to violence in the streets and military inter-venation in 2007.
Sheikh Hasina has not fulfilled her campaign pledge to run a corruption-free administration. 53 numerous high- profile corruption cases have damaged confidence in the government. The most damning emerged in April 2012 when Railways Minister Suranjit Sengupta was retained in the cabinet after a scandal involving bribes worth Tk 70 lakh ($90,000 – the equivalent of nearly seven years of ministerial wages). 54 ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahmansays the commission has been turned into a “toothless tiger” by requiring it to obtain the government’s permission before investigating officials.
This increases the possibility that corruption suspects might be able to keep subordinates from giving evidence or otherwise cooperating with the investigation. 55 AL leaders have continued the practice of exploiting loopholes in the judicial process with the help of the National Committee on Withdrawal of Politically-Motivated Cases, which has recommended the dismissal of 315 corruption cases against senior party Prime Minister Sheikh Hasi-na’s government has been marked by the usual poor governance indicators: high levels of corruption, a partisan judiciary and bureaucracy and worsening human rights violations.
Sheikh Hasina has used her mandate to restrict democratic space, prevent constitutional change and stack state organs with party sympathizers. She has also alienated the military. It is no surprise that the public has now slowly turned against the government or that the BNP has regained much of its strength. In a major show of force on 12 March 2012,100,000 people attended a BNP rally in Dhaka, even though the government virtually cut nationwide transport links to prevent supporters from joining.
But more violent political confrontations loom if no accommodation between the two parties is reached. The military is also showing signs of frustration. It is not clear how serious the coup plans it alleges were being made at the beginning of the year were in fact, but senior officers say disaffection and anger are widespread and rising. Based on extensive interviews and other sources, this report looks at why public trust in the AL government declined and examines the risks another prolonged electoral deadlock in 2013 would pose.
The lack of a caretaker government system is not the BNP’s only issue; it is also angry over the possible conviction of Khaleda Zia or her son, Tarique, in their ongoing court cases, which would bar them from the elections. Such a judgment could only be designed to cripple the BNP, one 81 under the constitution, the next general elections must be held in the 90 days before 24 January 2014. 82 Crisis Group interview, Dhaka, March 2012. 83 Crisis Group interview, adviser to the prime minister, Dhaka, March 2012. 84 Crisis Group interview, Dhaka, January 2012.
85 Crisis Group interview, Dhaka, March 2012. ________________________________________ Prospectus of national election 2014 The action plan is complementary to the five year strategic plan and the two need to be consulted together. It is more detailed and structured version of the strategic plan. It describes a series of action on an annual basis that will move the Bangladesh election commission to wards meeting its objectives and goals and therefore, its mission and vision. It is targeted towards operations, procedures and process and details of who will do what, when and how.
This action plan details the activates for the fiscal years 2011-2013 within the broad framework of the strategic plan. For an auspicious start the first action plan has been prepared on a two year basis but for each of the remaining three years, there will be an updated one on annual basis. This approach to achieving the goals of the strategic plan seems practical for the reason that activities that have been completed will have to be removed, activities that are in progress will have been reviewed and may need to be revised, and new activities may need to be added in response to completed actions and as resources are feed.
Each activity or project that is included within the action will have its own implementation plan which will contain more detail and a timetable organized in months rather than years. Action Plan of 2011-2013 Strategic Goal 1: Build on the existing strong trust and independence of the Election Commission. Strategic Goal 2: Maintain an authentic electoral roll. Strategic Goal 3: Conduct free and fair elections. Strategic Goal 4: Strengthen professional capacity to perform all assigned tasks well. Strategic Goal 5: Support the democratic culture.
Strategic Goal: 1 Build on the existing strong trust and independence of the Election Commission. 1. Procedures for selection and appointment of election commissioners: The commission processes the passage of a law that sets out the methods and terms and conditions of appointment of the commissioners. Measure of success the law is passed. 2. Code of conduct implemented: Administration wing creates a code of conduct which sets out the principles of work for the election commission. Measure of success the code has been created. 3. Code of conduct implemented:
The electoral training institute includes the code of conduct in training curriculum of all employees and those who are involved in the conduct of the election. Measure of success all who works for the election commission is aware of the code of conduct. 4. Own headquarters premises: The CSSED project stars the construction of BEC’s own headquarters premises by 2011-12 and completes civil construction by 2014. Measure of success the BEC has a fully functional headquarters premises. 5. Financial independence: Legal affairs wing and administration wing write a report on possible methods of ensuring further financial independence.
Measure of success the report has been presented to the commission. 6. Commission plan created: PR branch creates a communication plan relating to independence. Measure of success the plan is approved by the commission. 7. Communication plan implemented: PR branch implements the communication plan relating to independence. Measure of success the plan is followed. 8. Briefing file and induction: The secretary co-ordinates the preparation of briefing material for the new commission. Measure of success the briefing exists. 9. Handover notes: The commission writes hand over notes for the new commission.
Measure of success the notes exist. Strategic Goal: 2 Maintain an authentic electoral roll 1. AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) Check: National Identify registration wing runs a check to ensure that no person has been registered more than once. Measure of success no person has been registered more than once. 2. Update: Election wing conduct a house to house update which will cover new inclusions to the electoral roll, deletions and migrations. Measure of success electoral roll is updated as per law. 3. Evaluation of accuracy of roll:
Election wing contracts an external organization to evaluate, using sampling, the accuracy of the electoral roll. Measure of success the report is received and shows 99. 9% accuracy. 4. Public awareness of house to house update: PR branch conducts a public awareness programmed relating to the update process. Measure of success programmed is implemented. 5. Establishment of functioning upazilla server stations: CSSED project constructs and election wing oversees the full functioning of server stations in each Upazilla/Thana including equipment and manpower. Measure of success all Upazilla/Thana server stations are functioning.
6. Virtual private network: National identity registration wing establishes a virtual private network (VPN) between the central data central and field level server stations. 7. Procurement of equipment: National identity registration wing procures equipment for the central data centre to extend the facility for individuals to check their electoral roll information easily. 8. Dedicated electoral services website: National identity registration wing launches and maintains a website that allows individuals to access a range of services related to the electoral roll database. 9.
Training of personal in electoral database management: National identity registration wing and electoral training institute conduct training workshops on database management for personal working in the central data centre and field level server stations. 10. Standard operating procedures: Election wing implement the finalized standard operating procedures (SOP) for voter registration and electoral roll database management. 11. Establishment of a central data centre with disaster recovery:
National identity registration wing procures, installs and starts operation of a central data centre with disaster recovery system for Bangladesh voter registration system (BVRS). 12. Cleansing and migration of database to oracle: National identity registration wing completes the cleaning and migration of data to oracle. 13. Security: National identity registration wing arrangers, implements and installs electronic and physical security measures to protect the electoral roll database from any loss, damage or corruption. 14. Need assessment: National identity registration wing conducts needs assessment exercises with government ministries and departments, autonomous and non-government organizations, for utilization of the electoral roll database and services that may be provided.
15. Services management plan: National identity registration wing creates a plan for service management of each identified need and implementation including details of software and hardware needs, service level agreement details and government decisions that are needed. 16. Designing of quality ID cards: National identity registration wing develops the design and security measures needed for quality national identity cards. 17. Production of quality ID cards: National identity registration wing introduces quality identity cards for citizens. 18. Co-ordination:
National Identity registration wing establishes memorandum of understanding (MOU) with both the local government division and bureau of statistics on integration of databases. 19. Decentralization of NID services: National identity registration wing decentralizes the work relating to correction, duplication issue against loss and distribution for national ID cards. 20. Public awareness about ID services: PR branch and national identity registration wing deliver a public awareness programmed about the new services relating to the electoral roll database and national ID card.
21. Amendment of electoral roll rules: Legal affairs wing and election management wing prepare an amended set of electoral roll rules. 22. Standard operating procedures: National identity registration wing amends the standard operating procedures (SOP) to include the changes in the law and rules. 23. Training: National identity registration wing and electoral training institute conduct training workshops on the new procedure with dedicated staff who will deal with application from expatriate Bangladeshi.
All staff who deal with the new procedures know the details of the procedures. 24. Public awareness: PR branch conducts a publicity campaign in Bangladesh and overseas so that affected citizens can register to be on the electoral roll. Strategic Goal: 3 Conduct free and fair elections. 1. Timetable for pre-election activities: Election management wing creates a Gantt chart showing for each month the key process that need to be started, and the deadline for decisions, relating to all pre-election activities. Pre-election activities are all those that are
undertaken in preparation for the election period such as delimitation of boundaries, preparation of the electoral roll, identification of polling stations, finalizing standard operating procedures, voter awareness and equipment and materials procurement. 2. Timeline for election period activities: Election management wing creates a timeline that shows the activities and decisions needed on each day from the announcement of the election date through polling day to the gaze ting of the results. 3. Equal access assessment:
Election management wing contracts an external organization to investigate and report on barriers that exist for excluded groups in participating in the election and suggests both measurements for assessment and remedies that could be considered. 4. Post-election review process: Election management wing holds meetings with political parties, national and international observation groups, civil society organizations and election commission officials to agree on a review process to be conducted after the next parliamentary election.
The agreed framework is published on the website 5. Election conducts documents: Election management wing and legal affairs wing create a list of all of the laws, rules and guidelines and standard operating procedures used by returning officers and polling station staff. All documents on the list published on the website and kept up to date. 6. Candidate and political party documents: Election management wing and legal affairs wing create a list of all of the laws, rules and guidelines that relate to the obligations and responsibilities of candidates and political parties.
All documents on the list are published on the website and kept up to date. 7. Election laws compliance option: Legal affairs wing reports on methods of ensuring compliance with election laws after considering methods used in SAARC and commonwealth countries. The report has been presented to the commission. 8. Financial information compliance options: Administration wing investigates and reports on possible methods of scrutinizing or auditing the financial information provided by candidates and political parties. 9. Local election pilots:
Election management wing reports on pilots of the electronic voting machines in a range of booths during the 2011 local government elections. The report is presented to the commission and published on the website. Strategic Goal: 4 Strengthen professional capacity to perform all assigned tasks well. 1. Progress report: Administration wing creates a process for the quarterly collection of material from all concerned offices in order to prepare a progress report on work conducted in each financial year (July to June).
The report will include some financial information and success against agreed targets and measures of success from the action plan. 2. Own ETI premises: The CSSED project starts construction of the ETI premises by 2011-12 and completes the work by 2014. The BEC has fully functional ETI premises by 2014. 3. Needs assessment: HR branch conducts or contracts an assessment of the training needs across the election commission and reports on the training programmed that is needed. 4. Training workshops:
Electoral training institute with the HR branch deliver a comprehensive training program of workshops on election procedures and professional administration for all BEC employees and all those who have work related to election duties. 5. Digits filing of candidate data: ICT wing and election management wing investigate and report on the feasibility of on-line filing of disclosure information and candidate nomination information in a standard format which can be immediately made publicity available. 6. GIS for polling places:
Election management wing and ICT wing prepare GIS data showing availability of different information from which to select suitable polling stations. 7. Digits election result collection: Election management wing and ICT wing investigate and report on possible ways to digitize the process of selection result collection from polling stations. The report has been presented to the commission. 8. Alternatives to electoral roll number: Election management wing investigates and reports on methods of removing the need for votes to obtain their electoral roll number. The report has been presented to the commission.
9. Right to information Act: Election management wing and ICT wing prepare a report on the steps that are needed to comply with the right to information Act. 10. Communication plan: PR branch prepares a full communication plan covering all aspects of PR, communication and public awareness over the period from 2011 until the publication of the results of the next parliamentary election. The report has been presented to the commission. 11. Library digitization: PR branch and ICT wing transform all appropriate materials in the library into a digital form and make them available on the website.
All appropriate library materials is available on the website. 12. Delegation and decentralization: Administration wing implements the delegation of administrative and financial powers to all level of officers and monitors the extent to which these officers follow the instruction. Orders containing administrative and financial delegations to different levels are issued and available to all concerned. 13. Video conference: Secretary and ICT wing conduct a pilot on the use of video conferences for exchange of views between the headquarters and the field. 14. Co-ordination meetings:
Secretary and administration wing evaluate and report on the changing needs for co-ordination meetings due to decentralization of powers and roles. 15. Team Building: HR branch creates and implements a plan for each department or wing, district and project team building exercise away from the office. Each personnel is invited to at least one team-building exercise each year. 16. Rewards and recognition: HR branch investigates the different methods for recognizing and rewarding excellent work and conducts workshops with personnel at all levels to discuss the different ideas.
HR branch reports on the results of this investigation and discussion. The report has been presented to the commission. 17. Celebrate completion: The secretariat creates and implements a process so that all within the BEC know about the successful completion of projects or significant activities and that those who were involved are thanked for their work. Strategic Goal: 5 Support the democratic culture 1. Dialogue with Bangladeshi groups: PR branch organizes regular dialogue between the commission and organizations such as civil society organizations, the media and NGOs. 2. Dialogue with international agencies:
PR branch organizes regular dialogue between the commission and international agencies to discuss plans and support needs. At least one dialogue each year dialogue with political parties. Election management wing organizes regular dialogue between the commission and all registered political parties. At least one series of dialogue is held each year. 3. Assessing and benchmarking: By looking at the practices in other election management bodies in SAARC and the commonwealth, administration wing writes a report showing the aspects of good governance and how these can be adopted.
4. Good governance studies: A. Each year the administration wing conducts a study on methods to increase the visibility of good governance in one area of work. Possible topics include sustainability of funding, procurement policy public access to information. B. Accepted recommendations are pilot tested for wider application. 5. Agreed framework for observation: Election management wing conducts consultation with observer groups from 2008, and other interested groups, to determine framework of the observer programmed at the next parliamentary election.
6. Access to information plan: PR branch creates a plan on which information will be provided publicity and the methods of publication. This work will take account of the actions relating to the right to information Act, and the digitization of candidate information. 7. Voter awareness partnership: PR branch and electoral training institute assess and report on voter education and information tasks that could be delivered through an agreement with civil society organizations through a service level agreement or memorandum of understanding.
8. Civic education: Electoral training institute conducts an assessment of the possibility of conducting civic education on board aspects of democracy, delivered through agreement with civil society organizations. 9. Specialists symposiums: Administration wing creates a proposal on holding a series of specialists symposiums, for discussion with other election management bodies in SAARC and other regional bodies and the commonwealth.