Ballot boxes are stuffed the night before general polls in Bangladesh

Shakhawat Hossain
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda’s recent comments over the last controvercial general polls have sparked fury and strong criticism in political arena. At an event held on March 8, the CEC Nurul Huda said, “It is possible to prevent stuffing ballot boxes the night before elections by introducing electronic voting machines or EVMs.”
His specific comments were, “We have to formulate an electoral code of conduct, laws. We have to take stern measures. The situation is deteriorating. We have to overcome this.”
The Election Commission (EC) is planning to introduce Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) to resist the evil attempt of stuffing ballot boxes on the night before elections, he further said. He made the remarks at a workshop of trainers of the fifth phase of the upazila parishad elections at the Election Training Institute (ETI) in the city.
It seems that previously it had been only the opposition or the independent candidates that made such allegations. Or the media, even BBC, came up with such reports.
But now there are direct and indirect admissions of such discrepancies and that is coming from small allies of the ruling alliance as well as the constitutional institution – the election commission.
Such admissions about the votes being cast on the night before the election are important, no doubt, for the truth to emerge. But even more alarming is the invisible force that spreads its influence over the election. The chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda and Workers Party president, former minister Rashed Khan Menon, made significant comments in this regard. Menon’s statement is not just a perfunctory political one.
In parliament, he raised the issue of malevolent forces influencing the election. He said that if various facets of the state machinery enforce their control over the country, then political parties lose relevance not only in the election, but in running the state itself.
Another ally of the ruling alliance, Bangladesh JSD, also blamed over enthusiastic quarters of stuffing the ballot boxes on the night before the election.
In the very same week, chief election commissioner Nurul Huda and the other commissioners started speaking out too. It was first election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar who opened his mouth. He said that an inclusive election wasn’t necessarily a fair one. Then the chief election commissioner Nurul Huda that that the election in certain areas wasn’t carried out properly.
Then another election commissioner Shahadat Hossain said that that there would be no ballot stuffing on the night before the upazila election. And the very day after that, the chief election commissioner said, “We will use the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) from the next election, then there will be no scope to stuff the ballot boxes on the night before.” All these remarks are clearly admissions, albeit indirect, of the ballot boxes being stuffed on the eve of the election.
There were several allegations of stuffing of ballot boxes overnight, thus depriving people of their voting rights. A BBC journalist had earlier witnessed a ballot box full of ballot papers before the election in Chattogram.  On the other hand, TIB published a post-election report where it found irregularities in 47 constituencies out of 50. Immediately after the December 30 general election, Transparency International Bangladesh released its findings about 50 of the 300 constituencies. According to the findings, irregularities including stuffing of ballot boxes, violation of electoral code of conduct and violence took place in 47 of the 50 constituencies it monitored. It said that incidents of irregularities included a silent role played by law enforcers and administration officers, ballot box stuffing, fake voting and capture of polling stations. Ballots were stamped in the night before the elections in at least one or more polling stations in 33 while polling booths were captured and ballot boxes were stuffed in 30 of the 50 constituencies, the study revealed.
‘Some election monitoring organisations were not allowed to observe the polls for their alleged political link while some organisations linked to the ruling party were allowed,’ the study stated.
Besides, some 70 candidates of the BNP and Gono Forum have lodged cases with the High Court on allegations of irregularities at the national election.Speaking for the government, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the allegations of vote rigging. For its part, the Election Commission also termed the 11th parliamentary election as having been free and fair.
Against such backdrop, though voting at the Chattogram center in question was cancelled immediately, the Election Commission, however, did not pay any heed to other allegations.
Immediately after the polls, Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukder had, however, said that he did not change his stance and reiterated that participatory polls does not necessarily equate to a fair election. He made the remarks in a written statement to clear his stance regarding “confusion” over his comments at a programme organised to thank Election Commission (EC) officials on January 3. At the programme, Mahbub said that the EC has held a participatory election and that created confusion. “Several reporters asked me whether I changed my stance. So, it is necessary to clear the confusion,” he said.
CEC opens Pandora’s Box, says BNP
BNP, the ruling Awami League’s arch rival, has seen the recent comments made by Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda as evidence of vote rigging allegations raised by the Jatiya Okay Front in the 11th parliamentary elections.
About the recent CEC’s remarks, opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi at a press conference on Saturday last said that CEC unconsciously spoke his mind about ‘mid-night’ election of ballot stuffing the night before the voting day of 11th parliament polls.
He said that the CEC could not ‘keep the cat inside the bag’ for so many days and claimed that ‘real things’ were now coming out of ‘Pandora’s box’. Rizvi said that his (CEC) statement would remain an ‘important document’ to the nation.
‘You (CEC) have accomplished the transparent fraudulence and grand vote rigging on December 29 night,’ he said, adding that the chief election commissioner must answer to people for what he did.
 “The CEC has let the cat out of the bag,” said BNP Senior Joint-Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi at a news conference on March 9. According to BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, “The CEC’s statement is an important hint to the nation of how the stuffing of ballot boxes overnight was done.”His EVM comment proves that votes were rigged in the December 30 election, Fakhrul added.
‘Democracy was buried on Dec 30”, says Dr Kamal
Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain has alleged that democracy was “buried” in the country by holding a “tainted” national election on December 30. Speaking at a meeting of Gono Forum’s presidium members, Dr Kamal, however, hoped that people will surely protect the country from destruction, said a party press release. “The national unity must be cemented and intensified to restore democracy, the rule of law and people’s voting rights,” said Dr Kamal.  He said people are active to resolve the current situation. “We’ll have to work in this regard.”  At the meeting, the Gono Forum presidium members decided to hold the party’s national council on April 27 in the capital instead of March 23. 
Vote rigging to happen in daylight during Upazila Polls,  Says Menon
Vote rigging would not take place at night in the upcoming upazila election, it would be done in broad daylight, said Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon, whose party is a component of the ruling Awami League-led grand alliance. “Many chairman candidates are now winning the election without any vote. Such an election will not bring any good result for the country,” he said while addressing a reception at Barishal city’s Rajanigandha Community Centre on March 6, 2019.
Demand for re-polling as CEC comment causes stir
Political parties and governance campaigners on Saturday iterated their demand for re-election saying that chief election commissioner’s remark about ballot stuffing the night before polling proved that the December 30 general election was a faulty one.
Expressing their recation, they have said that all quarters but ruling Awami League demanded another fresh general election as the election was largely marred by flaws and faults.
Communist Party of Bangladesh president Mujahidul Islam Selim said the CEC admitted now what they were alleging for long. He said that his party would keep on demanding a free, fair and credible general election soon.
Former caretaker government adviser M Hafizuddin Khan said that the demand for a fresh election was more logical after the CEC admitted that the elections was basically held on the night of December 29, not on December 30 morning. He said that now all but AL were demanding a fresh election.
Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said that the commission failed to ensure a free and fair election.  ‘In his remark, the CEC himself admitted that they failed to conduct a credible election,’ he added.
He said that the EC should investigate the matter and take necessary actions as they had the authority to cancel the polls.
Sharmeen Murshid, Chief Executive Officer of Brotee (an election monitoring agency), said the Election Commission had failed to gain public confidence over the December general election. The commission did not even investigate the allegations properly, she added.
Is it a ploy to justfy use of controvercial EVM machines for digital rigging?
It is not yet clear why the chief election commissioner is so keen to use EVMs in the name of preventing the ballots being stuffed into the boxes the night before the election although all over the world there is talk of manipulating votes cast though EVM, by means of hacking or remote control. The arguments against such contentions are weak and flimsy. The chief election commissioner himself admitted to the problems in the EVMs used in six constituencies during the last general election. Does that mean he wants to resort to technology to rig the vote digitialy once again? Or is he trying to justify the huge expenditure involved in procuring such machines purches hurriedldly even after the expiray parliament session?
Even more worrisome is his comment that this election commission doesn’t have the power or the competence to give lessons on how to determine who is responsible for the irregularities in the election and what action is to be taken against them. He said the commission didn’t have the scope to say why all this was happening, who was behind it and who was responsible. Though being empowered by the constitution on all matters regarding the election, he declines to take responsibility of determining those responsible for the discrepancies and also to take action against them. This brings forward a host of questions.
And finally, if the ballot boxes were indeed filled on the night before the polls, why should the result of the election be accepted? There are demands at home and abroad for investigations to be made into the admissions that are seeping out here and there. Such demands must be taken into cognizance.
Paradigm shift in Bangladesh Election & Democracy?
The first phase of the 5th Upazila Parishad elections began in the country on March 10, with balloting taking place in 80 upazilas of 12 districts under four divisions.  In the light of the recent remarks of CEC KM Nurul Huda, the political arena has become heated in the last few days but now the election commission is making a big noise about ensuring that the upazila election is competitive one even without major opposition BNP.  It has ordered certain MPs to leave their areas and has suspended the voting in three upazilas as the environment was not conducive to fair election there. But after the huge damage done in the national election, such drama will make no difference. Already there will be no need to vote for chairmen in 96 of the 481 upazilas, that is, one in every five. The left front was quite right then in saying, after the Dhaka North city corporation polls, that there was no justification in wasting public funds on such farcical elections.
AL men fight it out among themselves in UZ polls; results from 57 available; AL takes 42
Boycotts by the BNP and other political parties have dampened the spirit of the first phase of elections to 78 upazilas, making the results irrelevant. As expected, ruling Awami League candidates were leading the polls that saw poor presence of voters.  Voting was held in 78 upazilas under Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Sirajganj, Rajshahi, Sunamganj and Habiganj districts amid stray incidents of violence and irregularities. The unofficial results of 76 upazilas available until Sunday midnight show Awami League-nominated contestants won chairman post in 57 upzilas, including 15 uncontested. Independent candidates won in 19 upazilas. Authorities suspended voting at 28 polling centres in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Sirajganj, Rajshahi, Sunamganj and Habiganj districts over allegations of irregularities, violence and ballot box snatching, according to the Election Commission (EC). Apart from 15 chairmen, six vice-chairmen and seven reserved vice-chairmen candidates were elected unopposed. According to the latest information from 57 out of 78 upazilas as of 12:30am today, the AL candidates won 42 chairman posts while their rebels secured 12. Two BNP men who participated in the polls defying the party decision won the race for chairman posts and an independent candidate secured another. It is also noted here that in some upazilas the candidates were facing obstacles to file nominations as some quarters were discouraging the candidates to take part in the elections saying that the results of the elations were predecided.  But it is widely feared that the country’s democracy would face danger and authoritarian rule would occupy the void if the local government election system was also destroyed.
Ducsu polls also get tainted with midnight stuffing
Tthe much-delayed Ducsu polls were stigmatised with overnight stuffing of ballot boxes as happened on the night of December 29, right before the national election. 
What began as a means to end the 28-year-long wait for Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (Ducsu), led to an eruption of protests at campus. Mass protests rolled out to the streets of campus after the opposition panels boycotted the Ducsu election alleging irregularities and vote rigging.
All the student organisations at Dhaka University, except Bangladesh Chhatra League, have finally boycotted the long waited Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (Ducsu) polls terming it a farce.
Pragatishil Chhatra Oikya, General Student Rights’ Council and independent candidates in a joint press briefing at around 1:00pm at Madhu’s Canteen declared this on Monday. Liton Nandi, leftists’ panel leader, made the announcement in a joint press briefing with other panel leaders, five hours after Ducsu elections began.
“This is a farce. We reject the election. We demand fresh election schedule and fresh voting,” said the vice president candidate of Ducsu.
ARM Asifur Rahman, an independent general secretary candidate, announced students strike at campus the next day of the poll day to press home their demand. They were accompanied by leaders of the quota reform panel, independent panel, and Chhatra Federation panel at the briefing held at Modhur Canteen.
Last reported, the panels and their followers and activists were staging protests at campus, demanding resignation of the university’s vice chancellor. Later, at a separate press briefing, Mostafizur Rahman, VP candidate for JatiyatabadiChhatra Dal also announced of pulling out from the race.  Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal brought out a separate procession on the campus boycotting the election.
Earlier, Rokeya Hall students have found hidden stash of ballots during Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (Ducsu) elections. The discovery was made after nearly four hours of protests over discrepancy with the number of ballot boxes available for voting. Liton Nandi, panel leader for leftists and a vice president candidate, told the reporters the hall had nine ballot boxes. “The authorities only showed six while commencing voting.”
The voting of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) election at Bangladesh-Kuwait Maitree Hall was also suspended for some time due to ballot stuffing as sacks filled with stamped ballots were found on the dormitory premises on Monday morning.  The proctor of the hall confirmed the suspension of voting. Notable, the ballots were stamped on the symbols of the candidates of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
And more unforunately, Nurul Huq Nur, the vice president candidate from quota reformist panel, was assaulted allegedly by some Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists at Ruqayyah Hall during its union election on Monday.  Witnesses said some BCL activists attacked and beat up Nur when he went to the hall during protests by students over alleged irregularities in the election, leaving him injured. Nur was taken to hospital, witnesses said. The students staged demonstrations alleging that ballots were stuffed overnight. They later vandalised polling booths and snatched ballot papers.
(Shakhawat Hossain is Dhaka-based freelance Journalist and Political Commentator)?

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