THE Khulna mayoral elections held on Tuesday was another disappoint in terms of the incumbents’ political and cultural ability to hold elections in free and fair manner. Many expected that the Khulna city corporation polls, an election held after a series of scandalous ones under the present regime, beginning from the last phases of those to Upajila in March 2014 and Dhaka city corporation April 2015, would be better in terms of neutrality of the civil administration, law enforcing agencies and the Election Commission in allowing equal opportunities to the contesting candidates belonging to the ruling quarters and the opposition camp while paving the way for the voters to go to the polling stations without fear and choose their representatives freely. But, alas, it was not to happen: the party-neutral section of the mainstream media has reported on the systematic intimidation of the active supporters of the opposition candidate particularly by way of arresting the campaigners from the beginning of the electoral race two weeks ago, creating an uneven field for the opposition in the first place. Then, on the election-day, the public administration and the law enforcing agencies publicly appeared to be supportive of all the unfair means the ruling party candidate and his supporters adopted to forcibly win the elections – stuffing of ballot papers, muscle flexing in and around the polling stations, obstructing the voters from coming to the polling centres. The election was marred, as a field-level report of the News Age says on Wednesday, by ‘widespread rigging, ballot stuffing and muscle flexing by ruling Awami League activists’ with the ‘law enforcers turning a blind eye’. While the polling agents of the opposition candidates were reportedly ousted by the muscle-flexing ruling party activists from many polling centres, many voters publicly complained that they could not cast votes for they were told by the polling officers that their votes had already been cast!
The long series of vote riggings, with direct and indirect supports of the administration, and without any effective intervention by Election Commission to stop such riggings, would further strengthen the opposition camp’s apprehension about a free and fair national election scheduled for late this year. Subsequently, they might ultimately decide not to take part in the next national election as they did in 2014. The incumbents, after being able to sustain its power even after the most farcical elections of the country’s history last time, may even opt for mechanically legitimising their perpetuation in power for another term through another sham elections with the main opposition parties staying outside the electoral race, but people’s right to vote and freely choose their representatives would be the prime casualty. Moreover, a repetition of 2014 elections would destroy the already damaged political fabric of democratic politics for the years to come.
Under the circumstance, it is imperative for the politically conscious and democratically oriented sections of the society, particularly those having no blind allegiance to the political camps crudely contesting for power, to initiate necessary activism to prevent the country from such a disastrous future without further delay.
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