In every election, the same screenplay of vote fraud and election irregularities has been produced by the ruling party.
Whenever BNP, Jatiya Party or Awami League are in power till today, the election observers witnessed a similar style of forcibly taking control of polling centres by henchmen of ruling party political leaders.
The Bangladesh Election Commission’s (EC) order to pack up the ongoing by-election in Gaibandha drew widespread accolades from civil society, rights organisations and national media.
Promptly the ruling Awami League bigwigs did not hesitate to critique the EC. They churned conspiracy theories that EC’s decision will make the electronic voting system questionable.
The recent electoral episode in northern Bangladesh invited fresh controversy regarding the operation of the electronic voting machine (EVM).
Whether the EVM is an electoral tool to ensure free and fair elections in a country where political parties flex their muscles in polling centres and flout the election code of conduct?
Indeed Gaibandha polls raised some doubts, whether the EC is competent to deliver the nation, a free, fair, credible and inclusive election.
Always the ruling political parties have a nexus with district civil administrators and district police. It seems the government officials do not have accountability under the oath of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Why does the ruling party abuse the nexus? The reason, the governing party possesses the ‘magic wand’ to influence the civil bureaucrats and police administration.
Their obligation to serve at the whims of their political master is obvious. The lucrative posting and promotion await for the subservient officers – the government officers cannot ignore the sugar-coated blessings of favouritism and nepotism to build their careers and accumulate wealth to live a peaceful life after retirement.
Prof Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University and chairperson of JANIPOP, a voluntary election observer’s organisation explained that EC’s experience in Gaibandha proved that Bangladesh does not need a caretaker government to hold the general elections.
The EC is a constitutional body and has once again proved that it’s an accomplished organisation to hold free and fair elections.
Dr Masum Billah, a political analyst who teaches law at Jagganath University says a controversial clause in the constitution requires holding the general election keeping the existing parliament. As such, the lawmakers remaining in power flex their muscles in the election.
On the other hand, Awami League’s arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) demands that the prime minister should dissolve the parliament before the election, which is not in compliance with the constitution. “It’s a collective political failure,” Dr Billah remarks.
Among other limitations of the EC, the body does not have its cadre service of civil officers to independently conduct a national election. Unfortunately, the EC is dependent upon the civil bureaucracy and police administration to conduct the elections.
There are several instances in the last half a century when the state apparatus showed thumps down on EC’s orders.
Despite being empowered by the constitution, sometimes EC becomes a toothless tiger and is unable to take departmental actions against delinquent officers of civil administration and police department.
What is next, after the newly launched newspaper Dainik Kalbela published breaking news that the upcoming general elections will be held on 4 January 2024?
Obviously, the nation will expect high hopes from the Election Commission. The EC in many countries has demonstrated as a role model in conducting credible elections.
The Chief Election Commissioner of India TN Seshan (Dec 1990 to Dec 1996) redefined the status and visibility of the Election Commission of India.
He became best known for his electoral reforms. He curbed several malpractices like bribing or intimidating voters, use of government funds and machinery for campaigning, appealing to voters’ caste or communal feelings, use of loudspeakers and high-volume music.
In another continent, Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, was Chairman of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he organised a peaceful elections in 2015 for the first time in Nigerian history.
Well, the Bangladesh Election Commission should uphold the constitution and is expected to be game changer in elective democracy to deliver credible and inclusive elections in Bangladesh, which would be widely acceptable by the citizenry at home and abroad – the international bodies and the West too.
First published in the News Times, October 17, 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Twitter @saleemsamad