This is a year of elections. It however started with massive protest and denunciation of the December 30 election results of the Jatiya Sangsad by the opposition.
But the government seems to have quickly moved. Sooner came the government announcement of a series of other elections such as to nation-wide Upazila elections and city mayoral and municipality elections.
Many wonder if such elections will be the replication of the national election. There is not enough indications that they will be different.
There is no denying of the fact that the government wants to maintain its control over the political system to continue in power and implement massive development programmes to claim the pride of the nation building at the end. But it is also true at the same time that absolute control over the nation in not necessary to achieve that goal ignoring political space to the opposition. It is turning the government autocrat which is not necessary at all.
Many believe the quick backup move to Upazila elections and other elections is essentially aimed at shifting attention from public criticism of the December parliamentary election to new debate over of the local body elections. Upazila election will take place in five phases from March 10 to June this year.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka University has also announced schedules for DUCSU election for March 11 after a long lapse of 28 years. No election was held to the varsity’s central students union over this period depriving students to speak for their cause. But threat and intimidation by ruling party student organization is undermining ground for a free and fair election.
Elections at all levels is important to allow people to use their franchise to elect leaders democratically. It is important to save such bodies at national or local levels from falling into the hands of corrupt, anti-people coteries.
There is every reason to applaud the government as it is giving more elections. But given the experience of how the government controls the election denying the opposition their legitimate space to contest with ruling party candidates, such elections can’t claim to be fair and acceptable.
The December parliamentary election was fraught with massive rigging and irregularities. Opposition candidates were intimidated, their attempt to hold election rallies were foiled and polling agents thrown out of the polling centers. Voters’ access to polling centers was barred.
Allegations galore that substantial part of the December 30 elections was completed in the night before election. Left party candidates in public hearing on election said 30 to 40 percent votes were cast in the earlier night. Poling officers were forced to cooperate with open or tacit support of the law enforcers deployed to maintain peaceful environment.
In fact the nexus between police and ruling party men has already evolved a highly efficient system how to run elections and bring absolute victory to the government.
Such system has already destroyed the credibility of elections as a neutral way of electing leaders. The boycott of Upazila polls and may be more such elections from now by Oikyafront/ BNP blaming the destruction of the election system thus appears reasonable. If they can’t hold the election ground, they say their participation will only give legitimacy to flawed elections.
It is clear in a free society election alone does not represent democracy. Democracy is a way of life embedded in rule of law, social tolerance and coexistence of political forces. Control by a lone political party over all others is not democracy.
But Bangladesh society is increasingly missing such fundamentals. Even the ruling party Awami League has limited such democratic practice of independently seeking public office by party men. Party leaders are selecting such candidates and any descent risk expulsion.
To many election has already become a mockery. During the North City mayoral polls polling officers were waiting with open door of polling centers for voters. They were scare. Some centers were visited by 10, 20 voters, some saw 100 at the highest.
Voters have lost confidence in voting but mayor was elected. Some figure suggest presence of around 30 percent voters others however dispute when the Election Commission claim the turnout at around 50 percent. People voted or not it was an election and mayor elected. The Chief Election Commissioner shielded his failure saying it was not his duty to go home to home to collect voters.
Many fear the Upazila election or the other city elections will see the repeat of such election because in absence of the opposition candidates, there will be no competition to bring out voters to create competitive challenge.
Many also fear that such control over the election system may spoil the DUCSU election from finding acceptability of common students. A high powered committee of Awami League leaders is steering the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL) election and there is hardly any scope for other student bodies such as Jatiyabadi Chatra Dal to throw a formidable challenge.
The Dhaka University has designated 18 student halls as the polling centers despite demands by other student bodies to shift the venue to the teaching faculties. In their view since BCL controls every hall students will not dare to oppose BCL candidates. Nobody will risk their life.
But the election system so dedicated to ensure victory of the ruling party men has already destroyed all public institutions to save democracy. It may be boomerang at the end. 07.03.2019.