The number of local poll observers to monitor voting in the upcoming 11th parliamentary elections is less than in any other of the previous national polls. Only the one-sided 10th parliamentary elections that took place in 5 January 2014 had even less election observers that this time.
The election commission (EC) has given permission to 25,920 local observers to monitor the elections while applications of 8,751 people were rejected, according to EC insiders.
There were only four international and 8,874 local observers to monitor the one-sided election of 5 January 2014. The 9th parliamentary election in 2008 was monitored by 593 international and 159,113 local observers of 75 organisations.
The number was even higher in the 8th parliamentary elections. A total of 225 international observers from 32 countries and 218,000 local observers worked across the country in 2001. More than 40,000 local and 265 international observers monitored the 7th parliamentary election in 1996.
EC secretary Helaluddin Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “The EC is giving permission to those who applied to observe the polls serially. Uncontroversial persons are being given permission first.”
The EC was checking the names of controversial organisations or people, he added.
Among the people given permission for monitoring the upcoming polls, around 15,000 are registered with the Election Working Group (EWG), an umbrella-organisation of 22 local observing bodies.
There is uncertainty though whether the EWG members would be able to monitor the election process fully due to the complexities of NGO Bureau’s permission to release foreign assistance.
The EWG said they have got the EC’s permission to observe polls but were waiting for NGO Bureau to release the funds.
“The election commission has given permission to all the organisations affiliated with the EWG to observe the elections. Now we’re waiting to see if the NGO Bureau will release the funds,” EWG chairperson Abdul Awal told Prothom Alo.
He hoped the bureau would release the funds on Sunday.
The 22 organisations affiliated with the EWG get financial assistance from the US, UK and Switzerland.
It would be impossible for many of the 22 organisations to monitor the elections if the NGO Bureau does not release the funds as the organisations need these funds for training of the observers, communications and other purposes.
The EWG sought permission for 16,394 observers but received permission for around 15,000 so far.
The EC sources said 81 out of 118 observing bodies registered with the EC applied for monitoring the polls. Not more than 50 members of a single observing body were given permission to work in a district.
Ruling Bangladesh Awami League objected to four of such bodies while the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) against one. But the EC has given permission to all five organisations.
“These organisations are registered with the EC. Cancelling their registration is complex legal process. We can’t keep them out of the observation process since they’re registered. But the EC will remain cautious in issuing ID cards,” the EC secretary Helaluddin said.
Despite the reduced number of observers, they will be present at every constituency. A total of 220 observers will be present in Khagrachhari, the most for a single constituency. The lowest is 13 for Dhaka-3 (Keraniganj) constituency. There will be at least 50 observers for every other constituency.
Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Shujan, a civil society platform working for good governance, thinks the decline in number of observers is negative.
“The role of local poll observers has become very important since many international observers are not coming due to certain complications,” he told Prothom Alo.
He however said caution should be observed in giving permission to observers.
“It should be seen that non-partisan people are given permission as observers. In the past we’ve noted that the ruling quarters appointed party activists as observers,” Badiul Alam added.