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Perhaps, CEC Nurul Huda has forgotten his responsibility. There is hardly a single instance of a free and credible election held under his commission

While this violence spread throughout the country, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nurul Huda, speaking about 'ways and means' to prevent the violence, said that this election violence could not be halted by deploying police in various localities and remaining on guard. This problem would disappear if the candidates, voters and all concerned displayed tolerance and election-friendly behaviour. He also said the blame can't simply be placed on the administration, the police and the election commission. The people do not even have the scope to make such allegations, according to Nurul Huda, the chief election commissioner who had been chosen by a search committee.

So far the election commission has announced the schedule of four phases of the union parishad election. The schedule may be announced in another two phases in order to complete the voting in around 4500 union parishads. Two phases have been completed. There are four more phases ahead. Meanwhile the violence escalates.

Five persons lost their lives in the first phase. In the second phase, 16 died before voting could even begin. On the day of the voting, 5 persons died in the violence.

The question is, how could the CEC say that election commission (EC) and the police, under EC control during the election, have no liability for the violence? By merely saying that all concerned must practice tolerance, is the CEC just trying to shirk his responsibility?

The Bangladesh constitution and law states that the election commission will conduct the election. And the executive will assist the election commission in carrying out its responsibility. An important part of the executive is the administration and the law enforcement agencies. Outside of this, if any other institutions also are given responsibility, they too must assist the election commission.

The task of the election commission is not merely restricted to announcing the schedule. It must ensure a free and credible election. And one of the main preconditions to a free and credible election is a peaceful election. It is the function of the election commission to create an environment conducive to peaceful voting.

This is where, perhaps, CEC Nurul Huda has forgotten his responsibility. There is hardly a single instance of a free and credible election held under his commission. In fact, the commission has no role at all in ensuring a peaceful environment during the elections.

To quote Badiul Alam Majumdar, the secretary of SHUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance), "The election has gone into exile. Has the election commission also forgotten their responsibilities?"

Providing security to the voters and candidates is a precondition to any election. A candidate will fearlessly take part in the election, under no pressure. He will campaign freely. The voters will cast their votes fearlessly and return home safe and sound. Their homes won't come under attack. No one will vote on their behalf.

It is the EC that must create this environment. But the EC has failed miserably in ensuring such an environment.

In the second phase of the election, chairmen in 81 union parishads won uncontested. In 5 union parishads there was no voting whatsoever. In the first phase too, chairmen candidates won uncontested in 64 union parishads. People in Bangladesh want to cast their votes, it is a part of the election culture here. This 'culture' of candidates winning with no votes is basically out of fear. Many people, under pressure, do not even contest in the election. Many do not bother to cast their votes because they know the results are already decided upon.

The voters are no longer enthusiastic about voting as they were in the past. They cannot, in many instances, vote for the candidate of their choice. They have to cast their vote in front of the supporters of the powerful candidate. Voters are now turning away from the polling centres.

The election commission has failed to ensure that the candidates adhere to the election code of conduct. It has failed to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. As a result, threats and violence continue.

If the election commission wanted, it could take action against candidates in many cases, it could have suspended the voting, it could have cancelled the votes in the areas where there had been serious irregularities. But as no such measures were taken anywhere, an election-friendly environment did not emerge. And violence remains on the rise.

The election commission has forgotten all these responsibilities and has restricted itself to merely announcing the election schedule. This constitutionally and legally independent institution has taken no steps to create an environment conducive to a peaceful election.

To quote Badiul Alam Majumdar, the secretary of SHUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance), "The election has gone into exile. Has the election commission also forgotten their responsibilities?"

* This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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