AN INCREASE in both the number of representatives elected uncontested and of Swaziland not having to hold any elections with all candidates being elected uncontested in the fifth palazzi elections, the first phase of which was held on March 10 and the second being held today, is by and large the manifestation of voters losing their interest in their right to franchise. In the first phase of elections to 81 upazilas, 15 were elected chairs uncontested and three upazilas did not need to hold elections as all the candidates were elected uncontested. In the second phase of elections to 116 upazilas, 23 are all set to be elected chairs, 13 vice-chairs and 12 vice-chairs in reserved seats uncontested while six upazilas would not have any elections as all the candidates are set to be elected uncontested. As election officials say, at least 30 chairs in the third phase on March 24 and 40 chairs in the fourth phase on March 31 are set to be elected uncontested. Figures from the fifth phase, the schedule of which is yet to be announced but is likely to be held on June 18, may further add to the number of uncontested election of public representatives.
The number of representative being elected uncontested has so far been reported to be 200, including 108 chairs, in the staggered elections to 480, out of 492, upazilas, being held for the first time on party tickets. Such an electoral situation stems from the ruling Awami League’s political arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies, left and most of the Islamist parties staying off the fray in protest at the electoral frauds that marred the December 2018 national elections, mostly, and the 2014 national elections and local government elections held in between. This has made the elections non-participatory and held back many voters from going to cast their vote. The voter turnout in the first phase, as the election authorities say, is 43.42 per cent, which reality on the ground suggests could be much lower. The voter obstruction and gerrymandering, as reported in the 2018 national elections, earlier showed a declining confidence of people in voting in the mayoral election to Dhaka’s North City Corporation on February 28, with 31.05 per cent of votes the Election Commission reported to have been cast. Elections with such poor response from voters and poor participation by candidates take away the competition in the elections, hardly hold the elected representatives accountable to the electorate and reduces the overall civility in the government.
Election authorities seek to say that the commission has noting to do with fewer political parties taking part in the elections. The commission, and the government, must not forget that the mere holding of elections is not the end to electoral functions, the authorities have other means to attend to by ensuring elections to be participatory and representative to ensure the competition and the accountability of the elected representatives. The birth of Bangladesh is enshrined in the struggle for results of people’s franchise and Bangladesh will lose face to its citizens if, primarily, the election authorities and the government fail to ensure people’s right to franchise and the sanctity of the vote.
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