PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION 2007 AND PREPARATION OF THE VOTER LIST
The Indispensability of One Electoral Roll for each Constituency.
According to the constitution of Bangladesh, a correct voters’ list is indispensable for Assembly general election. Article 121 provides “There shall be one electoral roll for each constituency for the purpose of elections to parliament and no special electoral roll shall be prepared so as to classify electors according to religion, race, caste or sex” and Article 122 has specified qualifications for registration as voter as follows :
122. (1) The election to Parliament shall be on the basis of adult franchise.
(2) A person shall be entitled to be enrolled on the electoral roll for a constituency delimited for the purpose of election to the Parliament if he (a) is a citizen of Bangladesh; (b) is not less than eighteen years of age; (c) does not stand declared by a competent court to be of unsound mind; and (d) is or is deemed by law to be a resident of that constituency.
Thanks to the monumental incompetence of the present Election Commission and the mess they have made of the electoral roll, at present there is no reliable voters’ list in any constituency in Bangladesh. The Election Commission, of course, should have the Voters list prepared in 2000 with a total of 74,946,388 voters. Any thing else they have such as a Voters list of 93,304,166 voters prepared after the direction of Hon’ble Supreme Court and an updated voters list prepared in December 2006 with 93,023,513 voters. are just rotten and they should be trashed forthwith.
The publication of a voters’ list is quite an exercise and how the registration is to be done and finalized is fully detailed in the Electoral Roll Ordinance, 1982 and the Rules made under it. Once it is there it can be corrected easily all the time. The practice of correcting it on the day before the election is not good because it usually results in registration of many false votes that cannot be effectively challenged at the last moment. The rule was meant for good reasons but is being misused and hence a terminal date for registration prior to the election day should be introduced. Anyway, the distribution of voters’ list to constituencies is also a big job. In 2001 there were 29,766 polling centres with 147,747 polling booths. In 2007 such numbers are likely to be much more but we do not have a list of centres yet.
The Drill for Preparation of Voters’ List
As stated earlier the registration of voters is done under the Electoral Roll Ordinance, 1982and the Rules promulgated under it. According to section 7(4) of the Electoral Roll Ordinance, 1982 the Registration officer shall in prescribed manner, publish the final electoral roll in Form-1 for a group of electoral areas or each constituency after making additions, modifications or corrections in the draft electoral roll as may be required under sub section (3) of section 7 of the Ordinance. This roll shall come into force immediately on such publication.
Rules 6 and 7 of the Electoral Rolls Rules, 1982 have respectively enumerated the processes of the preliminary publication of voters list and period for lodging claims and objections. These are as follows :
6. Preparation and Publication of Voters’ List.- (1) All citizens of Bangladesh, not less than the age of 18 and not competently declared to be of unsound mind, should be enlisted as a voter. An electoral roll for each constituency should be individually prepared for citizens residing in that constituency. No voter can be registered for more than one constituency.
(2) The preparation of the draft list will be on the basis of house to house visit by workers authorized by the Registration Officers to collect and verify information in Form 1. As per directive of the Supreme Court this compilation of voters’ list will be involve the updating on the existing voters’ list. This is to say that for the voter registration exercise for 2007 election it means that the voters’ list of 2000 as used for the parliamentary election of 2001 and supplemented regularly must be updated.
(3) As a matter of general rule the draft electoral roll shall not be published until the entries therein have been verified to the extent of at least ten percent by a house to house visit by a person other than the persons obtaining and verifying the statements i.e., a supervisor appointed for the purpose. For exceptional cases the Election Commission may prescribe some different modality.
(4) As soon as may be after the draft electoral roll for an electoral area is ready, the Registration Officer shall publish it in Form-1 together with a notice inviting claims and objections at his office and at such other place or places as the Commission may direct. As a matter of policy any voters’ list prepared before election should before final publication be hung in pubic places other than the offices of Registration and Assiatant Registration officers or of Election officers in the field.such as city corporation commissioners’ offices, UNO offices, Union Parishad offices or other places for public inspection to enable them to file claims or objections.
(5) When the registration officer publishes under sub-rule (1) the draft electoral roll for an electoral area, the notice for inviting claims and objections to be published therewith shall clearly mention the period fixed under rule 7 (that is 15 days) during which such claims and objections shall be filed.
7. Period for lodging claims and objections.- Every claim for inclusion of a name in the electoral roll and every objection to, or application for correction of any entry therein, shall be lodged within a period of fifteen days next following the date of publication of the draft roll under rule 6”. Thereafter the final list is printed and it can be done in a decentralized manner in a large number of districts.
8. Issue of Identity Card.- The law provides that after the publication of the voters’ list an identity card with the photograph of each voter must be issued by the EC. Despite repeated efforts no identity card has so far been issued.
The present readily available technology of digital photography makes it very easy to append in the voters’ list the photograph of each voter by the side of the entry of his/her particulars. This is a more reliable method than the issue of ID cards, which have chances of being lost or hijacked. This is also a task that can be performed when information/statement from the voter is collected by the authorized information collecting agent. All the equipment required is a limited purpose computer with a camera. A software can be easily prepared to make the entries about the voter and also his photograph and the operator has only to know to use the keyboard.
From the same photograph it will be feasible to issue identity cards to all citizens that can be used for all purposes. The issue of identity card will, however, be time consuming, perhaps a job for six months or so. Hence the issue of the identity card may not be linked with election and necessary amendment in the laws and rules may be made for that purpose.
9. Time needed for the Exercise of Voter List Preparation.- We have a population now of 140 million and the number of population of and above the age of 18 is 54 percent Thus we should have an electoral roll of 75 million voters. Generally about 10 percent are double counted or get registered fraudulently. So by no stretch of imagination the total number of voters can be beyond 83 million, some 56/62 million in the rural areas and 19/21 million in the urban areas. Registration as per usual formula is done in about 41,000 wards of unions in rural areas by 125,000 workers and in urban areas by another 12000 workers. They are usually primary school teachers buttressed by union agricultural assistants, who have some acquaintance with the residents of the areas. It is doubtful if 140,000 information collectors can be found who can make entries in a simple computer and photograph the voters at the same time.
Surely in the urban areas 12,000 such workers can be found or suitably trained for the job. For the rural areas another 25,000 such workers can be gathered. The services of the NGOs can be utilized for technical support and even some manpower. Assuming that one information collector can obtain information on 150 voters a day in the urban areas, the job can be completed in 4 days. In the rural areas it will take 9 days to compile the list. The daily visit to houses will be limited to around 50. Imposition of curfew for areas to be covered each day, particularly in the urban areas, should be done. For the gathering of information and computerizing the draft voters’ list a total of 12 days should be sufficient This will be followed by the mandatory checking of 10 percent entries by the supervisors, whose number will have to be about 7,000 (one for 5 workers). The dates for such checking should be notified in advance and two workers from each alliance of political parties may accompany the supervisors. This rechecking should take 3 days only. So in 15 days the draft list with photographs of voters appearing against their names can be made ready and put up for public inspection. If more qualified workers can be mobilized, the period can be shortened.
The law stipulates 15 days for filing claims or raising objections and their disposal. Covering this requirement, final voter registration can be completed in 16 days after the publication of draft voters’ list. Thereafter it can be collated and printed mostly in the district headquarters and from there sent to the constituencies possibly in a total of 10 days.
In order to plan and start the wok, the EC has to set up logistics, appoint the information collectors and supervisors and give them necessary instructions, assign the responsibility to the DC to coordinate and supervise the work. Making such arrangements may take 15 days especially to obtain the equipment. Thus the entire voter registration exercise will take less than 50 days for completing the checking and making the inclusions and deletions as well as printing of lists for every constituency.
Vol-6, No-2, January 15, 2007
Bangladesh Awami League Publication