SEVEN people — six on election duty and a passer-by — coming to be killed in a gun attack on a motorcade carrying the election officials and polling materials on the Sajek-Khagrachari Rod at Baghaichari in Rangamati on Monday is both shocking and condemnable. Six of them died on the spot while another died from his injuries in hospital after they had been attacked when they were returning to the Baghaichari upazila headquarters on completion of the polling and counting at two polling stations at Sajek on the polling day of the second phase of elections to 116 upazilas across the country. The attack left 22 others wounded. The army, border force, the police and Ansar members are reported to have launched a joint drive across the hill district to net in the attackers. In the upazila elections, being held for the first time on party tickets, the ruling Awami League’s political arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies, left and most of the Islamist parties are 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. The elections, in a situation like this, had many rebel candidates from within the Awami League.
It is learnt that in the elections to the Baghaichari upazila council, electoral frauds such as ballot stuffing, booth capturing, voter obstruction, the intimidation of the polling agents working for candidates outside the Awami League and its allies and ballot stuffing the night before marked the polling in 18 of the polling stations in the area at hand. A few of the candidates are learnt to have rejected the day’s polling in the electoral area. It appears, as some press statements suggest, that the attack might have stemmed from all such electoral frauds that the candidates outside the ruling alliance and also voters have not wanted to happen — in mark of protests in a dastardly manifestation against electoral frauds. While such an attack on people on election duty is absolutely unacceptable and warrants proper and expeditious trial following due procedures, the protests appear to have been armed as there is more presence of guns in the area in question than in other areas of the country. An added factor that fuelled such ghastly protests, which should in no way be an expression of anger, might also have the persistent repression and fearful situation that people of the area are subjected to as reasons. Yet all this leaves a lesson for the government to learn.
The Election Commission seems to be complacent having to hold the elections with all the stigmas of the process being unfair, with uncontested elections of a large number of positions and a low voter turnout, which was 43.42 per cent, as the authorities say, in the first phase of elections held on March 10 while the commission said that the turnout in the second phase was better but was yet to give any figure till Tuesday. But the electoral process continues to weaken the competition, making the elections unrepresentative, lowering the accountability of elected representatives and harming the sanctity of the vote. Both the Election Commission and the government must mend the electoral process to make elections meaningful and keep election officials out of danger.