Following the ruling Awami League's request, the Election Commission is considering an amendment to the electoral code of conduct so that lawmakers can take part in city polls campaigns.
“The commission is considering amending the electoral code of conduct positively,” EC acting secretary Helaluddin Ahmed told journalists after an EC meeting was held yesterday at Nirbachan Bhaban in the capital.
However, election observers and the BNP criticised the move.
On March 31, the EC announced the election schedule for Gazipur and Khulna city corporation polls, fixing May 15 for voting.
On April 13, an AL delegation, led by Prime Minister's Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam, made the proposal to the commission arguing that allowing MPs' participation in election campaigns would ensure a level-playing field for all candidates.
Following the proposal, the commission held the meeting yesterday where a committee, led by Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam, was formed to evaluate the issue and submit a report to the commission.
“A city corporation is a big area. Honourable lawmakers stay in the city areas and they go there. So, when the election schedule is announced, they cannot go there. According to the law, they can cast their votes on the voting day and the rest of the time, they have to stay outside the areas. The whole discussion took place from this point of view,” Helaluddin said.
He said as the issue of bringing changes to the electoral code of conduct was involved, the committee would place a proposal on the possible changes.
Though no timeframe for submitting the report was fixed, the committee had been asked to submit it quickly, he added.
Asked why the move was made after the announcement of the election schedule, he said the code of conduct could be amended anytime. “Earlier, the city corporation election was non-partisan, but it is now partisan. So, the context has changed.”
Replying to a query whether the move was made in the face of pressure from the ruling party, he said, “There is no pressure. Political parties are the stakeholders of the Election Commission. Whenever any political party raises an issue, we discuss it.”
This is not for the first time. In 2015, the then Election Commission, headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, drew huge criticism over the issue of bringing changes to the electoral code of conduct so that ministers and MPs could participate in campaigns.
Abdul Alim, director of Election Working Group, said the EC could amend the electoral code of conduct, but it should be cautious about the level-playing field.
“The Election Commission should create a level-playing field for everyone. If MPs get a chance to take part in campaigns, they can run campaigns with certain privileges which will destroy the level-playing field,” he said.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir criticised the EC for the move. He said it proved that the incumbent commission was “subservient to the government” and it was “fulfilling the government's intentions”.
“If MPs are allowed to take part in the election campaign, there would be no level- playing field. The move has unmasked the government's and the Election Commission's intentions over the election,” he said.
Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain told The Daily Star that the commission could amend the electoral code of conduct. But as the election schedule had already been announced, this sort of change would create controversy.
Earlier, leaders from the BNP and the AL met Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda and placed their proposals after the schedule for Gazipur and Khulna city corporation elections was declared.