The 'Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2023' was placed in Parliament on Monday with a new provision in an order to authorise the Election Commission to postpone or cancel the election result of one or more than one polling stations during the election.
Law Minister AnisulHaq placed the Bill in Parliament, which was sent for further scrutiny. The Committee has been asked to submit its report within 15 days.
The approval came from the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her office.
As per the new provision, the authority has been empowered to postpone or cancel the result of one or more than one polling stations at any time during the election due to use of muscle power or any other reason.
There is no issue of canceling the entire election in the proposed law.
That means if the EC thinks that there is a problem with the balloting of a polling station, it can cancel or postpone its balloting during the election. It may be during balloting or ballot counting.
In the existing law it says that the Election Commission may stop the polls at any polling station [or entire constituency, as the case may be,] at any stage of the election if it is convinced that it shall not be able to ensure the conduct of the election justly, fairly and in accordance with law due to malpractices, including coercion, intimidation and pressures, prevailing at the election.
The proposed law, however, replaced the words ‘election’ with ‘polling’.
After that paragraph, a new paragraph is included in the law. The new paragraph is— “The Commission may withhold the result of any polling station or polling stations, if it is convinced that the result of such polling station or polling stations was grossly prejudiced by malpractices including coercion, intimidation, manipulation or otherwise, and after prompt inquiry of the matter, in a manner as it may deem appropriate, direct publication of the result of such polling station or polling stations or declare the election of any such polling station or polling stations cancelled with direction for holding of a fresh poll in such polling station or polling stations, as that may seem to it to be just and appropriate.”
The issue of punishing the offenders for hampering media men to perform their “lawful” duty during the election is also in the new provision.
The proposed law also included a new paragraph where it says that If a person by threat, intimidation, hurt or otherwise by application of force, obstructs or tries to obstruct any person performing duties in connection with any election under this Order, or obstructs or tries to obstruct any representative of media or observer authorised by the Commission in connection with any election under this Order, and/or does any harm to his body or damage to his equipment related to performance of duty or prevents or tries to prevent any voter from going to polling station to cast vote or any candidate from submitting nomination paper, or compels or tries to compel any candidate to withdraw nomination paper, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall not be less than two years, and also with fine.”
Appeal can be made also against valid nomination paper:
Now the decision of a returning officer regarding cancellation of a nomination paper can be challenged. But as per the draft law, the decision of a returning officer that declared a nomination paper valid can also be challenged.
Appeal can be made against any decision of a returning officer regarding both cancellation and acceptance of nomination papers.
According to the proposed law, an aspirant can’t be defaulted in repaying bank loan or installment and he needs to clear all utility bills before a day from the day of the submission of nomination papers. Otherwise, he said, the candidature would be canceled.
The aspirant needs to attach a TIN certificate and receipts of tax payment with a nomination paper as well.
As per the draft law, the EC can appoint a returning officer for one or more constituencies. It has been made constituency-based also, which was only district-based, said Mahbub Hossain.
This change paved the way for the EC to appoint a returning officer for two or more constituencies of one more district.
Now the EC has authority to appoint a returning officer for one or more constituencies of a single district.
Jatiya Party MP Fakhrul Imam objected to the introduction of the Bill, saying that the power of the Election Commission is being curtailed through the amendment of the law.
But his objection was rejected by voice vote.
In response to his statement, the Law Minister claimed that the amendment of the RPO does not undermine any rights of the people.
“It does not undermine the democracy,” he said.
Imam hoped that the upcoming elections will be fair and participatory.
He said that this amendment is against the spirit of the Constitution and democracy.
“We want to see the Election Commission independent,” he said.
The law minister said that as per the amendment if there is a disturbance in any of the polling stations, the voting can be stopped there.
But due to the chaos in 2-3 polling stations, he said, the power is not being given to stop the polls in other stations where fair polls have been conducted.
“Because where elections are held properly, where people exercise their right to vote democratically, the Election Commission cannot stop it. If it could be cancelled it would be undemocratic.”