The High Court (HC) Thursday deferred by a fortnight the admissibility hearing of writs challenging the validity of preparing a fresh voter list, as the copies were not served to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and its secretariat for reply.
After nearly hundred minutes' hearing from both sides, a division bench, comprising Justice MA Matin and Justice M Rezaul Haque, re-fixed the hearing on January 2, 2006.
Two writ petitions-one filed by Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil MP and another by AL lawmakers Rahmat Ali and Asaduzzaman Noor-were in the form of Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
The Chief Election Commissioner was made respondent while Election Commissioners AK Mohammad Ali and Mohammad Monsef Ali pro-forma respondents in the writ petitions.
Waging a double-pronged legal battle, the Awami League lawmakers also challenged the validity of appointments of over 0.3 million (3 lakh) staff like enumerators, supervisors, assistant registration officers, registration officers and upazila election officers by the Election Commission Secretariat for preparing a fresh electoral roll.
As planned, the Election Commission (EC) begins collecting voter information at grassroots level in the new year with a target to publish the final voter list on June 1, 2006.
The counsel for the petitioners submitted that the CEC's unilateral move to prepare the fresh electoral roll and subsequent recruitment of over 0.3 million (3 lakh) staff were made in contravention of the Constitutional mandate vesting the power on the Commission.
Section 6 of the Electoral Rolls Ordinance, 1982, which expressly vests the function of appointment of registration officers and other staff on the Commission, they argued.
They contended that the appointment by the government as well as the decision for preparing an electoral roll afresh instead of revising and updating the existing electoral roll was also inconsistent with the Article 119 of the Constitution.
The appointment of registration officers, assistant registration officers, supervisors, enumerators and upazila election officers were made bypassing the objections from the majority Election Commissioners and in a non-transparent manner, they said.
The Secretary of the EC Secretariat in collaboration with the party in power has made the selection of the staff, mostly the ruling party cadres, which is contrary to law and good practices that amount to both malice in law and in fact, they contended.
They argued that the Election Commission, a composite body under the Constitution, has been empowered functions for supervision, direction and control over preparation of electoral roll as well as conducting parliamentary elections.
Only the Election Commission, which is legally competent to deal with election matters and any attempt to allow any other person to usurp the power of the Election Commission, is violation of the Constitution, making the system for fair election dysfunctional, they observed.
The CEC's unilateral decision, they submitted, tends to usurp the role of the Election Commission in contravention of the basic tenets of the Constitution and legislation. The CEC's action can easily be abused for manipulating the election in favour of any particular party, they pointed out.
The CEC's activities have already raised concern among the conscientious section of the people regarding the role of the Election Commission, which is expected to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election, they submitted.