Saturday, 23 June, 2018

More parliamentary seats for Dhaka?

Published on: 2:03 pm - Monday | July 17, 2017

‘The government may have the opportunity to exert some influence on the Election Commission to reduce the seats in those areas where the opposition parties enjoy a strong supporter base’

The share of parliamentary seats for Dhaka district may be increased as the Election Commission (EC) is mulling a rearrangement of the constituencies according to population and voter densities.

Election Commission officials have hinted that each parliamentary constituency may be delimited to a population of roughly 500,000, with 340,000 voters on average.

Based on that principle, Dhaka district is bound to have two more parliamentary seats as the number of voters in each of its 20 existing seats exceeds the newly proposed parameter for voter density.

Currently, a total of 7.56 million voters have been enlisted under Dhaka district. The voter count per election constituency in the district stands at a little over 377,000 on average.

Gazipur district may also have its share of parliamentary seats increased from five to seven while Narayanganj may get one more seat added with its existing share.

The delimitation would do justice to shifting demographics and strike a balance in the seat distribution between the urban and rural territories with the total number of 300 parliamentary seats kept intact, EC officials said.

It means an eventual decrease in the share of seats for Patuakhali, Pirojpur and other less-densely populated areas. Apart from this, the boundaries of many seats can also undergo some changes.

Election Commissioner Md Rafiqul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that they would like to consider both voter and population densities to demarcate the parliamentary seats for the next polls.

The existing parliamentary constituencies are demarcated largely based on population density.

However, the legal framework has to be changed for the rearrangement to be put into effect.

“We can not do this if the laws are not amended. The amendments to the laws are not only in the hand of the Election Commission, it depends on the Law Ministry, Cabinet, Parliament and the President,” said Rafiqul.

Unveiled on Sunday, the EC’s road map for the 11th parliamentary polls also mentioned that the territorial expanse of the constituencies would be finalised based on both population and voter densities.

According to the road map, the EC will prepare the draft of a new policy for the delimitation of 300 parliamentary seats in July-August.

The EC will hold discussions with the political parties and civil society representatives to gather recommendations over the draft policy and finalise it through the publication of a gazette in December this year.

But with this new process, there will be an opportunity for the ruling party to have more constituencies with a strong supporter base, pointed out some EC officials, preferring not to be named.

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujon) Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar echoed the same concern, saying: “The government may have the opportunity to exert some influence on the Election Commission to reduce the seats in those areas where the opposition parties enjoy a strong supporter base.”

But the EC can always work transparently if they can properly assume their power and freedom, he added.

Badiul Alam noted that if the number of parliamentary seats for Dhaka is increased based on voter density, it raises the possibility that there will be no representatives from the hilly districts by the same principle.

Senior lawyer and constitutional expert Dr. Kamal Hossain said the law could be changed if necessary to adjust to demographic change. But it would be contrary to the constitution if the change discriminated between citizens,he said.

“Public opinion must be sought before changing the law,” Dr. Kamal said.

BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said that before accepting such a proposition, they have to find out whether the move is intended to give advantage to any political party.

“We have sent a letter to our district offices to learn if there is any problem with the existing delimitation, or if there is any other motive,” he added.

Ruling Awami League’s Joint General Secretary Mahbub-Ul-Alam-Hanif also observed that if the parliamentary seats are reduced in some areas, it could lead to some inconveniences.

Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam noted that the Delimitation of Constituencies Ordinance 1976 has to be amended before the rearrangement of the parliamentary seats.

The EC would discuss the issue of delimitation of parliamentary seats with political parties, civil society and the media to make sure that no party is harmed by the process, she added

Borders of election constituencies were roughly the same between 1973 and 2001, according to EC officials.

On the eve of the 2008 parliamentary elections, the boundaries were reset based on the 2001 census.

The next census was completed in 2011. But there was no visible change in the boundaries of the electoral constituency based on that census.

The EC reset the boundaries ahead of the 10th parliamentary polls in 2014. The district-wise distribution of parliamentary seats was kept intact while demarcations of upazilas, unions and other local government units were left mostly unchanged.

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