WHAT one election commissioner has said — the commission does not want to see a repeat of the past mayoral elections when elections to both the city corporations of Dhaka will take place on January 30 — should have by now been what other commissioners, including the chief election commissioner, should subscribe to, making it a collective stand of the incumbent commission. This appears more so especially after how the incumbent commission has conducted the national elections and elections to several city corporations and the upazila councils. The commissioner at hand, Mahbub Talukdar — when he addressed a training programme for returning and assistant returning officers for the elections to Dhaka city authorities at the Electoral Training Institute on Wednesday — has also said that elections to only Cumilla and Rangpur city corporations were held ‘properly’ but the issues went awry in elections to city corporations of Barishal, Gazipur and Khulna. The commissioner says that the Election Commission which is legally independent has in reality become a prisoner in view of the way the elections took place and suggests that reforms in the electoral process are needed to effectively attend to the problem.
The election commissioner further says that elections, which are an essential condition of democracy, should be conducted in a free, fair and neutral manner. The secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — which along with all major political parties in the opposition stayed off the fray in the 2014 national elections but took part in the 2018 national elections that were marred by voter obstruction, booth capturing and ballots amply reported having been stuffed the night before the election day — on Wednesday said that they would take part in the elections because of the trust they repose in democracy, knowing well that no elections under the incumbent commission could be free and fair. When commissioners know that there have been issues with the commission’s holding of elections, which have fallen far short of the standards in the latest national elections and elections to many local government authorities, it is not hard to infer that many, at home and abroad, know of such issues, which run counter to a democratic dispensation. The ruling Awami League’s general secretary on Wednesday sought to say that the elections to the city authorities of Dhaka would be free, fair and acceptable, gave the assurances to the BNP to this end and welcomed the party in opposition to the electoral fray. In a situation like this, the commission should earnestly work to prove that it is meant to hold elections in a free, fair and neutral manner.
Besides, the people elected in elections marred by fraud hardly have any commitment to the electorate and democracy. The commission must, therefore, ensure a democratic environment for elections so that voters, who have largely been disenfranchised during the latest elections to the national parliament and elections to many other local government authorities, can freely exercise their franchise. People must be able to cast their vote in the interest of a meaningful democratic dispensation and Bangladesh must come out of the culture of elections having been tainted on many counts. The Election Commission must be bold enough.
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