THE fears that civil society organisation Sushasaner Janya Nagarik, or citizens for good governance, has come up with saying that free and fair elections could not be possible under the present Election Commission are worth noting for the commission, with the next parliamentary elections scheduled before the year-end. The organisation at a briefing in Dhaka on Wednesday brought up the issues in light of how the elections to city authorities in Rajshahi and Sylhet were held. As for elections to city authorities of Rajshahi, the organisation holds the view that the ruling Awami League created anarchy even when its mayoral candidate was popular more than that of the opposition political party. There had been allegations of the breaches of the electoral code of conduct in the elections to city authorities, especially in Gazipur, Khulna, Barisal and Rajshahi; yet, the commission hardly strived to sort out the issues. Almost no local government elections — city corporations, upazila councils and union councils — barring a few were properly held since the 2014 national elections. They were all mired in fraud and violence, leaving a large number of people dead, especially in the union council elections in 2016. Hence, the fears of the organisation seem tenable.
With the chief election commissioner at a programme in Dhaka in the first week of August saying that the commission could not guarantee that there would be no irregularity in the next general elections only adds to the fears. In view of the statement, the inaction of the commission about irregularities and electoral code of conduct breaches in the recent city authority elections suggests that the commission might not lift its finger if irregularities would take place in the national elections. Besides, the Election Commission echoing what the Awami League says about the use of electronic voting machines — first saying that EVMs would not be used as political parties are opposed to their use, then saying that machines would be used in the elections after the ruling party so says and then, again, saying that the machines could be used if all stakeholders agree after the Awami League so says — lends credence to the public perception that the commission was trying to make happen what the ruling party wills. The Election Commission is also seen running short of efforts to ensure an equal space for all political parties while there is, as the organisation argues, no way to say that the commission has nothing to do before the announcement of the elections schedule.
All such issues are reflective of weaknesses of the Election Commission, giving rise to fears that it might be difficult for the commission to prove its mettle as it still fails to understand what its challenges are. In a situation like this that prevails before the national elections, the commission needs to understand that it should shore up issues, which are gravely challenging, on all its fronts to successfully hold national elections that would be acceptable to all in terms of fairness of the holding and the freedom of the voters to exercise their franchise without fear.
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