Electoral System

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh became a sovereign state on 16 December 1971 at the end of anine-month War of Independence against Pakistan. The years since independence have seen periods of military rule, democracy and political turmoil, with two assassinations of two presidents, , three military coups and many attempted coup attempts. Bangladesh has been  hovered around electoral democracy, authoritarian single party system and military rule; and between Parliamentary and Presidential systems of government. The frequent systemic changes have hindered the institutionalization of democracy and adversely affected the development of an effective Parliament. Bangladesh started its journey with a Parliamentary system of Government, then switched over to single party Presidential system on January 25, 1975 and in 1991 reverted back to the Parliamentary system after the downfall of the military dictatorship of Lt. Gen. H M Ershad in December 1990.

According to Article 65 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh there is a Parliament (known as Jatio Sangsad or National Parliament) in which, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the legislative powers of the Republic are vested. The National Parliament consists of 300 members elected, in accordance with law, from single-member territorial constituencies. Besides this, there was a provision for thirty seats reserved exclusively for women members up to the year 2000, who were elected according to law by the Members of Parliament (MPs) There are now 50 reserved seats for women members, who are selected by Members of Parliament, based on the proportionate number of seats each political party has won in the elections. This provision for 50 reserved women seats will continue for ten years from the beginning of the 9th Parliament (in 2009). The Parliament has a tenure of five years, unless dissolved sooner.

Election is an integral part of the institution of democracy and as such, a free, fair and efficient election process is a must for safeguarding democracy. Effective and fairly conducted elections largely depend on skilled and well-trained election personnel as well as on the awareness of the voters and political activists about their franchise rights and knowledge of election rules and regulations. The Bangladesh Election Commission is putting effort in making the existing election process effective and smooth. According to Article 119 of the Constitution, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for elections to the office of President and to Parliament; and the conduct of such elections, are vested in the Election Commission which shall, in accordance with this Constitution and any other law –

(a) hold elections to the office of President;

(b) hold elections of Members of Parliament;

(c) delimit the constituencies for the purpose of elections to Parliament; and

(d) prepare electoral rolls for the purpose of elections to the office of President and to Parliament.

The modes and procedures for holding elections to the Members of Parliament are laid down in the

Representation of the People Order, 1972:

i. General Election of Members of Parliament: The general election of Members of Parliament (MP) is held within ninety days after Parliament is dissolved, whether by reason of the expiration of its term or otherwise than by reason of such expiration [Article 123 (3) of the Constitution].

ii. Election to the Office of President: The President of Bangladesh is, according to Article 48 of the Constitution, elected by the Members of Parliament in accordance with law. The mode and procedures for holding election to the office of President are laid down in the Presidential Elections Act, 1991 and the Presidential Election Rules, 1991. The President holds office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters into office.

iii. Local Body Elections: Article 59 of the Constitution provides that local level government in every administrative unit of the Republic shall be entrusted to bodies, composed of persons elected in accordance with law. The existing laws and rules governing the conduct of elections to different local bodies empower the Election Commission to conduct the following local level elections:

(a) Union Parishads (Union Councils)

(b) Upazila Parishads

(c) City Corporations

(d) Pourashavas (Municipal Committees)

(e) Hill District Councils

The Election Commission

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh specifically lays out the composition and functions of the Election Commission. According to Article 118 (1) of the Constitution, the Election Commission consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and not more than four Election Commissioners and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, by law, be made by the President. Under the Constitution, the term of office of any Election Commissioner is five years from the date on which he enters into office. A person who has held office as Chief Election Commissioner is not eligible for appointment in the service of the Republic. Any other Election Commissioner is, on ceasing to hold such office, eligible for appointment as Chief Election Commissioner, but is not eligible for appointment in the service of the Republic. In the 1972 Constitution, there was no mention of the maximum number of Election Commissioners. The number of Election Commissioners including the Chief Election Commissioner was fixed to a maximum of five by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, done in 2011.

On paper, the Election Commission is an independent constitutional body in the exercise of its functions and subject only to the Constitution and any other law. The Commission may authorise its Chairman or any of its members or any of its officers to exercise and perform all or any of its powers and functions under the law.

Article 126 of the Constitution and Articles 4 and 5 of the Representation of the People Order, 1972 provides that it shall be the duty of all executive authorities to assist the Election Commission in the discharge of its functions.  The Commission has the power to require any person or authority to perform such functions or render such assistance for the purpose of election as it may direct.

The Election Commission has a full-fledged Secretariat headed by a Secretary of the Government. The Secretariat renders all assistance to execute the decisions and orders of the Commission.

  [1] Information gathered from Bangladesh Parliament, http://www.parliament.gov.bd/# [2] The Representation of the People Order of 1972 is a law dealing with holding elections to Parliament and for matters connected therewith, http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/print_sections_all.php?id=424

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