What does being elected with 9pc votes indicate?

Awami League candidate Mohammad A Arafat for the Dhaka-17 by-election, after casting his vote at the Gulshan Model High School and College CentreDipu Malakar

The total number of voters in Dhaka-17 constituency is 325,205. Ruling Awami League nominated candidate Mohammad Ali Arafat has been elected from this constituency in the recently held by-poll with only 28,816 votes.

It means that he has been elected the MP of the constituency that comprises the upscale areas of the capital including, Gulshan, Banani and the Cantonment areas, with the support of only 9 per cent of the total voters.

Relevant people say, although there is no legal barrier in being elected with such a low number of votes, it doesn’t look good.

Usually, people are less interested in by-polls. Besides, the national election is due in four months. Therefore, people were not that interested about the Dhaka-17 constituency. As a result, the voter turnout was low in this election.

However, the question has come to the fore after the Dhaka-17 by-polls, aren’t even the supporters of Awami League coming to the polling centres?

Political analysts say people have been reluctant about casting votes since the national election of 2014. People’s confidence in the Election Commission (EC) has been ruined due to irregularities and forceful occupation of polling centres.

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There is a perception that voters do not matter much in determining the outcome of the election, and whoever the ruling party nominates will win. Due to these reasons, an aversion towards casting vote has been created among a large part of the voters.

Voting to Dhaka-17 by-poll was held last Monday. Some 11.51 per cent of the voters cast votes in the by-poll. Independent candidate Ashraful Hossen alias Hero Alom was the main competitor of Awami League nominated candidate Arafat.

The Awami League nominated candidate won by a huge margin in the by-poll. Arafat got a total of 28,816 votes while Hero Alam bagged only 5,609 votes. The ruling party nominated candidate got 77 per cent of the total votes casted.

There were a total of 124 polling centres in the by-poll. Awami League candidate Arafat won in all the centres except one. Analysing the centre-wise result, it has been learnt that the margin of vote is not that much in the cantonment areas and Baridhara, known as the diplomatic zone.

The Awami League nominated candidate got a total of 1,713 votes from the 24 centres in these areas and Hero Alom got 927. However, the voter turnout was quite low in these areas.

Hero Alom got more votes than the ruling party candidate at the polling centre of Bangladesh International School and College in the cantonment area. Hero Alom got 110 votes and Arafat got 79 votes there.

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After 1991, Awami League secured the lowest number of seats in the parliament in the national polls of 2001. However, in that year too, Awami League got the votes of 30 per cent of the total voters, which was 40 per cent of the votes cast.

Awami League got the support of 41.47 per cent of total voters in the ninth general election in 2008. The party has been in power since then. Speaking regarding the low voter turnout in the Dhaka-17 by-poll, election commissioner Md Alamgir told the newspersons, “It’s your task to analyse the reason behind the low voter turnout. It will help us learn reasons thoroughly as well. However, the commission cannot force people to cast votes. In Australia, the voters are fined 50 dollars if they miss casting their votes, which we cannot do.”

A day ahead of the vote, election commissioner Rasheda Sultana said, “There might be a low voter turnout as the current parliament does not have much time in hand. Besides, people in the upscale areas might not be that interested in the poll.”

Vote cast was the highest in the history of the country in 2008. Record 87.3 per cent of the voters cast votes that time. The voter turnouts were more than 51 per cent in every national election except the one sided sixth and 10th national polls.

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The vote cast rate was low during different polls held under this government. Some 28 per cent votes were cast in the by-polls of the six constituencies left by the BNP. Earlier, in the by-poll of Gaibandha-5, the voter turnout was 38 per cent. The voter turnout in the Dhaka-10 by-poll was 5.28, the lowest in the country’s history.

Apart from the by-elections, the voter turnout is declining in the local government elections as well. The voter turnouts in the Gazipur, Khulna, Sylhet and Rajshahi City Corporations were between 46.71 per cent to 58 per cent, which was 5 to 20 per cent less as compared to the city polls in 2018.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shushasoner Jonno Nagarik (SHUJAN) secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar, “Being elected with such a low number of votes questions the legitimacy of the election. Democracy is a reflection of people's choices. The result of the most recent by-poll is not the reflection of people’s decision. There are many countries in the world where there are provisions of holding re-election in case of less than 50 per cent voter turnout. However, there are no such laws in the country. However, if people's choice is not reflected in the election, then democracy will be confined to slogans only.”

Badiul Alam Majumdar thinks one of the main reasons behind the decline in the voter turnout is people’s lack of confidence in the election commission and the electoral system.

He said, “People now believe that their vote doesn’t matter. The idea that the ruling party candidate will win by default is a dangerous thing.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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