Election commission's 'strictness' not being put to test

The biggest shortcoming of the election commission (EC) in the five city corporation elections that took place before the 2018 national election, was its failure to establish control over the administration and the police.

Allegations were raised at the time that BNP's leaders and activists were driven away from the field even before the election by means of cases, arrests, threats and other ploys. EC watched on as a silent observer.

As BNP is not taking part in the city elections this time, the EC is also not having to face the test of exerting its control over the law enforcement agencies.

Election analysts say that because Awami League's main rival is not in the fray, the EC does not have to face the actual challenge of conducting a free and fair election.

The city corporation polls will not be a litmus test of how far the EC will be able to exert its strength if the national parliamentary election is held with the inclusion of all parties.

The EC has taken a stern stance this time to ensure that the city corporation polls are free and fair. This constitutional institution wants that Barishal and Khulna city corporation elections to be better than the one held on 25 May in Gazipur. The election of these two cities will take place tomorrow, Monday.         ­

The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has been used in most of the elections that have taken place under the present election commission. Even in these elections, more or less one-sided, all sorts of allegations were raised. People were seen to unlawfully enter the booths and cast the votes of other people.

EC had taken a significant step last October when it halted the Gaibandha-5 by-election due to the presence of such unlawful 'voters' in the booths. But EC's investigations did not reveal for which candidate these false votes were being cast. Nor did the commission take any action against the candidate, the local deputy commissioner or the police superintendent.

According to election-related sources, till now the biggest challenge posed before the EC has been such unlawful presence in the polling booths. The election commissioners have visited the constituency several times before the election. They have held meetings with members of the law enforcement and other officials involved in the election.

The concerned persons were reminded at these meetings that failure to ensure the confidentiality of voters is a punishable offence. They were told that if anyone committed an offence, if anyone resorted to irregularities or aided and abetted such irregularities, stern actions would be taken against them in accordance to the Election Officers (Special Provisions) Ordinance. If anyone tries to take position in the polling booth, immediate legal action will be taken against them. Directives have also been issued for special arrangements to be made so that no outsider can remain in the Barishal and Khulna electoral constituencies after the campaigning is over.

Election commissioner Md Ahsan Habib Khan, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "The administration, police, law enforcement agencies and the polling officers have given us full assurance of following our directives to ensure a peaceful environment for unhindered voting. Our message is clear. We have created a level playing field and have not made any compromises concerning irregularities in campaigns or any disorder."

"Checkposts have been set up to prevent the entrance of outsiders," he said, adding that he believes the Barishal and Khulna city corporation elections would be better than the one in Gazipur. Steps even sterner than in the past would be taken against anyone involved in any sort of irregularity.

Ahsan Habib went on to say, "We took up a stern stance in enforcing the election code after the election schedule was announced. We have taken all measures, keeping a sharp watch to ensure a free, fair and neutral election in Khulna and Barishal city corporations."

Most of the local elections over the past one decade, as well as the 2014 and 2018 elections, were questionable. Analysts have been saying that the election environment has been destroyed to a greater extent. Most of the political parties and people have no confidence in the election commission. It was in such circumstances that the present election commission, led by Kazi Habibul Awal, took over responsibility in February last year.

This time, however, the ruling party's main rival BNP is not in the fray for the city elections. The party had not taken part in any election under this commission. And so the commission has not had to conduct any very competitive polls so far. After the present EC took over, most of the elections taking place over the last one year have faced controversy and questions.

It is likely that the other three city elections will be peaceful, but not credible. These elections have no credible alternative candidates. And so these local government elections will not be able to project a picture of the national election
Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN)

The commission has been lauded for the Gazipur City Corporation election that took place on 25 May. Independent candidate Zayeda Khatun, mother of former mayor Jahangir Alam, defeated the ruling Awami League candidate Azmat Ullah to become mayor. BNP is absent in the coming four city elections too. But there may be stiffer contest in Barishal and Sylhet. Khulna and Rajshahi city corporation elections are not likely to see much competition.

Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN) secretary of Badiul Alam Majumdar, told Prothom Alo, "The Gazipur election was peaceful. There was no visible pressure or force used to make the party candidate win. There may be competition in the Barishal city election. It is likely that the other three city elections will be peaceful, but not credible. These elections have no credible alternative candidates. And so these local government elections will not be able to project a picture of the national election. After all, state power is to change by means of the national election."