WIDESPREAD allegations of attacks on and arrest, harassment and intimidation of candidates of parties and alliances in the opposition and their people, coupled with unbridled breaches of the code of conduct for the electoral process, marked on Friday morning the end of campaigns for the 11th general elections posted for December 30. Opposition candidates were attacked, leaders were arrested by the police in ‘fictitious cases’ and they all were harassed reportedly by incumbent party people. While opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party candidate for a Pabna constituency was on Wednesday stabbed and wounded grievously in one such attack, candidates of the incumbent party in some places are reported to have sounded warning, as New Age reported on Wednesday, for voters asking them not to go to cast their vote and for opposition candidates, leaders and activists to stay off the electorates for the polling day. Violence by some measure has always been typical of the electoral fray in Bangladesh, which also attests to the failure of the election authorities, yet direct attacks on the candidates and the intensified degree of intimidation of opposition candidates have come to be phenomena coming in a big way. Violence continued till the last day of campaigns that began on December 10.
The situation at hand yet again betrays the failure of the Election Commission as violence, which negatively influences the holding of the elections and stands in the way of people exercising their right to franchise, and elections cannot go together. This has happened because the Election Commission, visibly the chief election commissioner, appeared unwilling to come to terms with what in reality happened in the electoral fray. The election authorities, who remained unperturbed by the continued violence and breaches of the electoral code of conduct, merely wished that that the polling on December 30 would be peaceful with the participation of all political parties. What they appear to have forgotten is that the participation of all alone does not make elections meaningful but the elections need to be free, fair and credible and voters need to be able to cast their vote without fear and favour. As the Election Commission’s failure to ensure a level playing field for all the players — with the incumbent candidates carrying out campaigns unhindered and opposition candidates staying out of their houses to escape police harassment or being driven out of the streets — has it grossly mired in controversy, the commission now should put in all its might to ensure that voters can exercise their right to franchise unhindered on the polling day and to head off any violence on the polling day and on the single day that is left before the polling.
The Election Commission, in light of what has so far happened, now must rise up to the occasion and ensure that no violence and intimidation of opposition candidates take place until the polling. It must also ensure that voters go to the polling stations without obstruction and cast their vote without fear. One or the other political party or alliance may win or lose, which does happen in all elections, but the commission must see that the people win by having been able to elect the representatives of their choice.
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