Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar said on Wednesday that Bangladesh was heading for an uncertain destination of an authoritarian rule as the fifth elections to upazila parishads, boycotted by opposition parties, were marred by record number of representatives elected uncontested amid low turnout of voters.
According to the unofficial results compiled by the Election Commission, ruling Awami League leaders were elected chairmen uncontested in 115 of the 486 upazilas that had gone to the polls.
Although the commission claimed that the turnout of voters was over 40 per cent, people even witnessed the use of public address system of mosques to urge voter to cast their votes as polling stations were almost deserted.
Governance activists said that people lost their interest in voting as major opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, left parties and most Islamic parties, boycotted the first-ever officially partisan upazila elections protesting against the tainted December 30 general elections.
Elections to the upazila parishads ended amid violence and rigging and boycott by opposition parties as the fifth and last phase of the elections in 23 upazilas on Tuesday were marked by violence, vote rigging and low turnout of voters.
In the polls in 473 upazilas in the first four phases, more than 99 per cent of the positions of chairman were bagged by AL leaders, either nominated by the party or contested as rebel candidates, according to the unofficial results compiled by commission officials.
While the number of uncontested winners was the highest in the history of the upazila elections, the voter turnout was only 40.22 per cent, a record low, commission officials said.
At a press conference at his office, election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar said that the upazila elections were unilateral as the opposition parties did not participate in the polls and it certainly was not good for democracy.
He said that the most alarming aspect of the upazila polls was the people’s lack of interest in the elections which was an ominous sign for a democracy and a nation.
‘We must uphold democracy by holding free and fair elections. The nation is being pushed to the edge of a cliff by people’s lack of interest and participation in the elections. Bangladesh is now heading towards an uncertain destination of an authoritarian rule,’ he said.
He said that the upazila polls this time were not inclusive as the opposition parties did not contest in the elections.
‘Such one-sided polls are not good for democracy. Democracy means the opinion of the majority gets expressed in an inclusive and participatory system. In lopsided polls, opinion of the majority does not get reflected properly,’ he said.
Stressing that the polls environment is an important aspect to ensure inclusive elections, EC Mahbub said, ‘We are continuously moving towards a scenario where one-sided polls would be the norm, which is not desirable for any democracy.’
He said that the upazila parishads will fail to meet the people’s expectations if it was not able to deliver their duties independently and the democratic norms of the local governance system were compromised.
According to the compilation, AL candidates secured the chairman post in 320 upazilas, independent candidates including AL rebels secured the post in 149 upazilas, Jatiya Party in three upazilas and Jatiya Party-JP bagged one upazila.
Beside, so far 55 chairmen and 65 vice-chairmen posts reserved for women were elected uncontested in the polls.
Balloting did not take place at 33 upzilas as all representatives were elected uncontested in the upazilas.
Local government expert Tofail Ahmed told New Age that voters lost their interest in the elections and the government, while Election Commission made no effort to restore people’s interest in voting.
He termed the situation alarming for democracy and said that the situation was shameful for the nation as the history of the country’s foundation was related to voting rights.
He said there was no shortcut way to overcome the ‘unhealthy’ process.
When asked about the on-going polls, election commissioner M Rafiqul Islam said that political parties are responsible for the changing scenario as a good number of registered political parties did not participate in the polls.
He said that the number of contestants and turnout were also lower than the previous elections for the same reason.
Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumder told New Age that the rising trend of electing representatives uncontested was alarming for democracy.
The representatives would not be held accountable by the people as they were not elected through direct balloting, Badiul said.
The last elections to the upazila parishads were held in six phases since February 19, 2014 with 60 per cent of voter turnout.
According to the Upazila Parishad Act 1998, elections would be held within 180 days from the expiry date of the five-year
tenure that begins with the first meeting of the perished.
The civic body headed by a chairman constitutes two vice-chairmen, including a female representative, while chairmen of union parishads of the respective upazilas have been performing the duties of the members of the upazila parishads.
The first upazila polls were held in 1985.
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