Presidential dialogue with political parties across the divide over the ways of holding free and fair general elections raised enormous hope among the people who want peaceful transfer of power. The hope, however, was dashed first as the president did not heed the idea of restoration of a non-party, caretaker government for conducting the polls — an idea that most of the political parties, again on both sides of the political divide, put forward. The president eventually came up with the government idea of forming a ‘search committee’ to find out non-partisan people to constitute the next Election Commission to preside over the polls without any bias for or against any contender for state power. This is, indeed, an ideal solution for an ideal democratic political atmosphere, particularly for those, like New Age, who do not believe in the running of the affairs of the state by any unelected body even for a while. But, unfortunately, the political parties and authorities managing the state since independence have not contributed, intentionally or unintentionally, towards the creation of that ideal, democratic political environment. Subsequently, the political parties of the ruling class, let alone those who find the ruling class inherently undemocratic, do not trust each other’s neutrality in conducting the polls. But the president, who is expected to function as a symbol of unity of the state, went ahead with the incumbents, ignoring their political rivals.
After the four-member ‘search committee’ was officially announced, the hope of the peace-loving people, however, was dashed again because of the composition of the search body. The New Age report on Saturday, ‘Who’s who in the search committee,’ reveals that most members of the body either have a partisan background identified with the ruling Awami League or the identity of being a ‘victim’ of being the incumbents’ political rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party. None of the identities promise party-neutrality in choosing the members of the next Election Commission, one of the most vital bodies in conducting general elections with non-partisan attitude.
The head of the committee, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, had reportedly served the Awami League government during its 1996–2001 tenure as a deputy attorney general. He was appointed a High Court judge in February 2001 when the Awami League was in power. He was elevated to the Appellate Division in February 2011. Justice Md Nuruzzaman, a member of the search committee, had been elected general secretary and president of the Dhaka Bar Association from the Awami League-supported panel. He was appointed a deputy attorney general immediately after the Awami League had assumed office on January 6, 2009. He was appointed a High Court judge in June 2009.
Another member, AT Ahmedul Huq Choudhury, was appointed chairman of the Public Service Commission by the incumbents in November 2011. A former inspector general of police, Ahmedul was forced into retirement by the BNP government in 2001 on charge of his participation in Janatar Mancha, a platform of professionals that the BNP claims to have helped unceremoniously in overthrowing its government in 1996. Ahmed Ataul Hakeem, another member of the committee, was appointed the comptroller and auditor general in February 2008 by a military-driven government.
Those who have the idea of the level of mistrust between the two rival political camps led by the Awami League and the BNP could have no reason to believe that the latter would accept the commission chosen by the search committee in question. So, the problems regarding peaceful transformation of power remain. The president, if really willing, needs to make fresh attempts to save the country from the emerging political conflicts that the country would confront in the near future.