THE fifth phase of elections to upazila councils, which was the last, in which polling took place in 23 upazilas on Tuesday are reported to have been marked by boycott by parties in the opposition camps, violence, gerrymandering and low voter turnout as it happened with elections to upazila councils in the previous four phases — 107 upazilas on March 31, 122 upazilas on March 24, 138 upazilas on March 18 and 81 upazilas on March 10. Elections to five upazila councils were held earlier at different times on their tenures being served out. The fifth-phase elections, in which four ruling Awami League candidates were elected upazila chair ‘uncontested’, took the total number of such ‘unopposed’ election of upazila chair to 112 in the elections to 489 of the 491 upazilas. No elections needed to take place in three upazilas in the last phase as all the representatives were elected ‘uncontested.’ In the previous four phases of elections to 463 upazila councils, more than 95 per cent of the position of chairs went to either candidates nominated by the Awami League or Awami League leaders who contested the elections as rebel candidates, as unofficial results show.
While the elections were marred by violence and irregularities, including opposition polling agents being driven out of the booths, in an upazila in Narayanganj, campaigners, mainly Awami League activists, had to call voters on the public address systems of mosques to the polling stations. Election officials at most polling stations are reported to have counted only 30 to 40 voters casting vote between 9:00am and 3:00pm. All this — the poor state of voting including voter’s reluctance at exercising their right to franchise — is reflective of how elections to preceding upazila councils and, above all, the general elections that took place on December 30, 2018 were held. While voters felt that the exercise of their right to franchise was futile, the parties in the opposition camp — the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies, and left and Islamist parties — felt that there was no meaning in contesting the elections and they boycotted the uapzila polls in protest. Elections with poor response from voters and poor participation by candidates appear to have taken away the competition in the elections, leaving the whole process to turn unrepresentative. This is, in turn, unlikely to hold the representatives who are thus elected accountable to the electorate and is highly likely to reduce the overall civility in the government. All this, in turn, appears to have disenfranchised society, which is ominous for the political culture of the country.
The Election Commission and the government must realise that it is they who have almost everything to do with the electoral process being reduced to this insignificance. A mere holding of elections is not the end to electoral functions. They must, rather, employ means to ensure that elections are participatory and representative to ensure the competition and the accountability of the elected representatives, in all of the national and local government elections. 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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