THE Awami League’s candidate on Monday won the by-election to the Chattogram 8 parliamentary seat, which fell vacant in the death of the lawmaker for the constituency of Boalkhali and Chandgaon in November 2019, with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party candidate, who quit the electoral race halfway, having finished second. Only 23 per cent of the voters are reported to have turned out to cast their vote, with 80 per cent of the votes cast having gone in favour of the AL candidate and 18 per cent in favour of the BNP candidate. In addition to the low voter turnout, what more marred the by-election were widespread electoral fraud and intimidation, as the BNP candidate alleged. Ruling party activists are reported to have captured the polling centres, driven agents of the BNP candidate out of the centres in the presence of law enforcers and prevented the BNP candidate from entering two polling centres. Allegations are galore that the electronic voting machines have been manipulated, which has called into question the integrity of the Election Commission. This all has prompted the BNP candidate to demand re-election. Chhatra League activists, with their faces covered with handkerchiefs, are reported to have held a show of strength, brandishing weapons.
A ranking police official seeks to say that some unpleasant incidents took place in some centres but they did not hamper the voting process. In some cases, presiding officers denied having known of anything that happened outside the centres and the returning officer seeks not to have found any proof of the manipulation of the voting machines or the expulsion of the agents of the BNP candidate. What happened centring on the by-election shows that the Awami League has made the take-all attitude its mantra, which has been evident in almost all the elections held under the Awami League presiding over the government, bringing to the fore an inherent weakness of the Election Commission. Almost all such elections, but for a few, were marred by electoral fraud, intimidation of opposition election agents, the obstruction of voters, booth capturing and ballot stuffing. While all this has taken away the competition of the elections, made the representatives thus elected unaccountable, reduced the overall civility in the government and disenfranchised society, this has also corrupted the electoral culture almost beyond reparation. The Election Commission has, by toeing the partisan line, made its weaknesses evident, allowed its credibility to erode and has missed chances, one after another, to regain people’s confidence even trying to hold the elections living up to the standards. The holding of the by-election to the Chattogam 8 constituency will almost certainly harm the image and integrity of the commission in view of the elections to the city authorities of Dhaka scheduled for January 30.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which has been in the opposition for more than a decade, has earlier said it is taking part in the city elections out of its commitment to ‘liberal democracy’, knowing fully well that it would lose because of the government’s high-handedness and the commission’s inability to properly hold the elections. The commission has missed the chance to prove that it has the mettle and to prove BNP sentiments wrong. While the government and the commission are badly in need of some introspection to make a course correction, people at large also need to think about the take-all attitude of the Awami League and the inability of the commission.
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