EVMs will be used in a small number of polling centres in the constituencies situated in urban areas, says the CEC
The 11th general election will be held across Bangladesh on December 23.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda announced the date while addressing the nation from the Election Commission office in Dhaka’s Agargaon on Thursday evening.
“The proper environment to organize the polls has been created (so) I urge all political parties to resolve all disputes or differences of opinions among themselves and participate in the polls,” Huda said.
“I also urge the political parties to remain alert so that competition and rivalry do not turn into retribution or violence.”
Huda’s announcement came amid repeated calls by the new opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front for the commission to defer the election schedule. The ruling Awami League, however, had urged the commission to stick to its plan.
Under the timetable announced by the CEC, candidates must file their nomination papers either online or manually between today and November 19.
The returning officers will then scrutinize the nomination papers on November 22, with November 29 fixed as the final date for withdrawals.
“There is a constitutional obligation to hold the election before January 28, 2019,” CEC Huda said. “The countdown has already started.”
The commissioner said the EC has almost bought all of the necessary election materials and has finished printing papers, while necessary issues were also being discussed with the concerned ministries.
The commission on Thursday also started sending nomination forms and other election materials to the senior district election officers and district election officers at its field level offices from the BG Press at Tejgaon.
EVMs on small scale
On December 23, nearly 104.2 million registered voters will elect 300 representatives to parliament by casting their votes in around 40,000 polling stations nationwide.
In his speech, which was aired on Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar, Huda said that the commission would use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in a “small number of randomly selected voting centres” in the urban electoral constituencies.
“The voters have already been informed about the EVMs’ benefit and they have shown interest,” he said. “We believe using EVMs will raise the standard of the election and save time, money and man-hours.”
Despite objections from many political parties, the use of EVMs became possible through the amendments to the Representation of the People Order (RPO) last month.
The commission plans to use 150,000 EVMs in at least 100 randomly selected constituencies across the country during the vote.
Security and army
The CEC on Thursday also said that over 600,000 members of different law enforcement agencies - including police, Border Guard Bangladesh, Rapid Action Battalion, Coast Guard, Ansar and Village Defence Party - would be deployed around the country to ensure a free, fair and unbiased election.
“Special attention will be paid to their skill, neutrality and integrity,” he said. “If the election is harmed by their failure, the responsible official will face legal action.”
Additionally, the army will be prepared to provide necessary aid to the civil administration in maintaining law and order in line with the Defence Ministry’s "Aid to the Civil Power" policy, he said.
Election Commission officials told the Dhaka Tribune that army personnel would be kept ready at the cantonments and designated places to operate as a “striking force” if called upon.
The commission has also finished the preliminary works to recruit, train and deploy 700,000 administrative officials, including executive and judicial magistrates in every constituency, to conduct the polls.
Huda said the law enforcement officials would be given strict directives to ensure that no voter, political leader or activist, or candidate and their supporters and agents are “unreasonably harassed or accused in cases.”
“Regardless of parties and opinions, people of all religions, caste, minority communities and genders will be able to exercise their franchise and go home safely afterwards,” he said.
The CEC said all candidates and political parties would enjoy equal facilities during their campaigns.
“A level-playing field will be ensured for all. A circular in this regard will be issued very soon,” he said.
In his speech to the nation on Thursday, Huda said the Election Commission had begun preparing for the 11th national polls in 2017, when it drafted a seven-point work plan aimed at updating and preparing the voter list and amending election-related laws.
This work plan was then discussed with 40 registered political parties, the civil society, representatives of the mass media, election experts and observer organizations, and women organizations.
“In line with their recommendations, we have brought amendments to the laws and rules,” Huda said.
“(We have) published the list of redistricted constituencies, finalized 40,000 voting centres and the voter list, and disposed of the matter of registration application from 75 political parties.”
The CEC also talked about the push to integrate modern technology into the existing election management systems.
“We have modernized the commission's own network and upgraded the software and programs that will be used for candidates’ information management and for exchanging information among the election officials,” he said.
Huda also urged the media to publish objective news reports and he called on election observers to follow the code of conduct.
“The Election Commission Secretariat will monitor the overall situation and supervise election procedures around-the-clock,” he said.
“This is how a credible election can be held.”