Representation of the People Order, 1972

Representation of the People Order, 1972 is the law which regulates the election of 300 members to the Jatiya Sangsad. The said Order was promulgated by the President of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh on 26 December 1972 by repealing the National and Provincial Assemblies (Election) Ordinance 1970 and Legal Framework Order 1970. The Order describes the power of the Election Commission, providers for appointment of Returning and Assistant Returning Officers, Presiding and Assistant Presiding Officers, locating polling stations, declaration of election schedule for election to the Sangsad or any by-election by the Commission, procedure for submission, acceptance or withdrawal of nomination paper by a candidate, and other detailed procedure for conducting the election, counting of ballot papers, declaration of result and publication of name/ names of the elected member/members to the Jatiya Sangsad. It also provides for deciding election disputes by the Election Tribunals appointed by the Commission for adopting corrupt and illegal practices in the election with detailed procedure for filing and disposal of election petitions, appeal etc. It also defines and describes election expenses, election offences, penalty and procedure as well as miscellaneous matters in connection with holding of such election. The Order was amended from time to time, and in 2008 the then non-party caretaker government as part of its efforts to effect electoral reforms that the Order underwent major amendments. Such amendments were made in the form of an ordinance known as the Representative of People Order (Amendment) Ordinance 2008 (Ordinance No. 42 of 2008) in the month of August of the same year. Subsequently the elected government that came to power in 2009 introduced a Bill in the Jatiya Sangsad in 2009 which after it was passed by the Sangsad and asscented by the President became the Representation of the People Order (Amendment) Act 2009 (Act No. 13 of 2009).

The Act consists of thirty sections, and it repeals three Ordinances promulgated earlier by the caretaker government under the names of Representative of People (Amendment) Ordinances. However, it protects all acts done or actions taken under the said Ordinances in order to maintain continuity of actions relating to electoral governance. The Act makes as many as fifteen amendments of different sections and inserts by way of substitution or new entries three sections of which Chapter VI A is a major replacement of earlier law. This chapter, in fact, is the most important element of electoral reforms. It relates to registration of political parties with the Election Commission. In the earlier law, there was no compulsion for any political party for such registration. As a result, no political party ever got registered with the Commission.

Prior to this amendments providing for registration, the political parties were more or less free for all situation in the formation and working of parties. As a result, the number of parties swelled. The Commission took the initiative to map out the areas of reform after extensive consultation with the political parties, the members of the civil society and the media. This resulted in the formulation of restrictions on registration in the form of criteria for eligibility for registration, and penalty or cancellation of registration if conditions are violated or not fulfilled later. The amending Act has three sets of restrictions. The first set requires: (a) evidence that the party has been active in terms of securing at least one seat with its electoral symbol in any parliamentary election held since independence of Bangladesh; or (b) secured five percent of total votes cast in the constituencies in which its candidates took part in any of the aforesaid parliamentary elections; or (c) established a functional central office, by whatever name it may be called with a central committee (as a base for the organizing structure of the party in various administrative level in the country, effective), district offices in at least one hundred upazilas or metropolitan thanas having a minimum number of two hundred voters as its members in each of them.

The second set of restrictions basically relates to incorporation of specific provisions in the constitutions of the respective political parties. Under this category, the parties are required to: (a) elect the members of the committees at all levels including members of the central committee; (b) fix the goal of reserving at least 33% of all committee positions for women including the central committee and successively achieving this goal by the year 2020; (c) prohibit formation of any organization or body as its affiliated or associated body consisting of the teachers or students of any educational institution or the employees or labourers of any financial, commercial or industrial institution or establishment or the members of any other profession. However, the parties are free to organize independently in their respective fields or forming association, society, trade union etc, and exercising all democratic and political rights, an individual, subject to the provisions of the existing laws, to be a member of any political party; (d) finalize nomination of candidate by central parliamentary board of the party in consideration of panels prepared by members of the ward, union, thana, upazila or district committee, as the case may be, of concerned constituency.

The disqualification criteria for registration are also spelt out in the law. A political party is not to be registered if: (a) the objective laid down in its constitution are contrary to the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh; or (b) any discrimination regarding religion, race, caste, language or sex is apparent in its constitution; or (c) by name, flag, symbol or any other activity it threatens to destroy communal harmony or lead the country to cessation.

Other disqualification criteria are: (a) No political party shall be registered under a name, under which another political party has already been registered; (b) Commission shall not register any political party banned by the Government.

The decision of the Election Commission for registration of a political party is final. A registered political party is allowed to enjoy certain benefits. These are: (i) Receipt of donations from any individual up to a limit of taka five lakhs, and taka 2.5 million in case of a company; (ii) Reservation of symbol once allowed; (iii) One of the prescribed symbols for all the candidates set up by it in any election under this Order or rules according to the preference indicated by it, and the symbols so allotted shall be kept reserved for it, unless it indicates its preference for any other prescribed symbol available; (iv) One set of electioral rolls in compact disk (CD) or digital versatile disk (DVD) or any other electronic format at free of cost; (v) Broadcasting and telecasting facilities in the state-owned media during the general election to Jatiya Sangsad according to the principles and guidelines prescribed by the Commission;

A registered political party is debarred from accepting any gift, donation or grant or money from any other country or non-government organization receiving foreign aid, or from any person who is not a national of Bangladesh by birth or any organization established or maintained by such person.

The registration of a political party may be cancelled on specific grounds. The registration is liable to be cancelled if: (a) the party is dissolved according to the constitution of the party by the highest decision making body, by whichever name it is called, or an application is made to the Commission along with the minute for dissolution of the party under the signature of the chairman and general secretary of the party or any other person holding equivalent rank; (b) the political party is declared banned by the Government; (c) the political party fails to provide any information under this Order and rules to the Commission for consecutive years; (d) the political party violates the provision of clause (2) or (4) of Article 90 B; (e) the political party does not participate in the parliamentary elections for two consecutive terms.

If, however, the grounds of cancellation relate to (c) (d) and (e) above, the Commission is bound to give the relevant political party an opportunity of being heard in the prescribed manner. There is provision for appeal to the High Court Division if a political party is aggrieved by the decision of cancellation of registration.

In addition to the above, the Act provides for holding election on the basis of the Electoral Roll prepared under the Election Roll Ordinance 2007, maintenance of a list of polling stations by the Commission, additional disqualifications of the candidates for membership of the Jatiya Sangsad, submission of certain documents and an affidavit with nomination paper, casting of votes by postal ballot by certain persons, increasing the limit of election expenses of a candidate or any political party, submission of expenditure statement by a candidate or a political party within certain period, consequence for failure to submit the same and some other minior amendments of certain provisions of the said order. [AMM Shawkat Ali]