Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has found evidences of vote rgging in 47 out of 50 constituencies the anti-corruption watchdog monitored during the holding of 30 December parliamentary polls.
TIB has observed that the law enforcement and the administration had collaborated with the process through participation or silence.
It has suggested that there should be a "judicial inquiry" into the massive irregularities committed in the 11th national elections.
Ballot boxes were stuffed in 33 constituencies in the previous night before the election while 41 constituencies saw casting of fake votes at the polling stations, according to TIB's report titled ‘Overview of 11th parliamentary elections’ published at its office on Tuesday.
In the 50 constituencies that the TIB used as sample for reporting quality of the elections, it was found that the administration and law enforcers played a "silent role" in 42 constituencies during the voting. The voters were restricted or driven out of the polling stations in 21 constituencies, the TIB report pointed out.
"In many cases, the voters couldn’t cast their votes freely,” TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said at the launch of the preliminary report.
“The law enforcement agencies, a section of officials of the administration and election officials behaved in a biased manner during the elections. This is a gross violation of law, devoid of any ethics.”
However, election commissioner Rafiqul Islam dismissed the TIB findings, saying that it is imaginary and predetermined. "Since TIB calls it, preliminary report, it's imaginary," he argued, in his reaction to the TIB report.
Before the release of the TIB report, a number of international groups and organisations called the tainted and rigged while the country's opposition including the BNP and new coalition of Jatiya Oikya Front rejected the election results, alleging massive irregularities.
The opposition candidates were intimidated by the law enforcers and the ruling party men in as many as 44 constituencies, the TIB report said.
On the voting day, the TIB report said, polling booths were forcibly captured in 30 constituencies, voters forced to vote in favour of a specific symbol in 26 seats and polling agents of the opposition parties not given entry into 29 seats.
Of the 50 seats, ballots were stuffed in the box prior to the start of the vote in 20 constituencies and ballot papers were finished in 22 constituencies before conclusion of the vote, according to the report.
TIB said the election was participatory, but far from being fair.
It pointed finger at the election commission for failing to play due role in many cases.
"The EC failed to give equal opportunity for all the political parties to hold rallies and processions, carry out electoral campaign and to give the opposition leaders and activists required safety and security," observed the TIB.
It added, the commission failed to play its due role in preventing the ruling party men from violating electoral code of conduct.
Moreover, the report pointed out, imposing various restrictions on election observers and media professionals, blocking 3G and 4G network and restricting the vehicular movement also made the election questionable.
Various activities of the ruling Awami League and its alliance partners influenced the course of the electoral game, the TIB report said.
It further listed that not dissolving parliament before the election, carrying out election campaign through implementation of various development projects with public money, preventing the opposition men from campaigning by means of filing cases and arresting them put adverse impact on the election.
The TIB report referred to blanket arrest of the opposition leaders and activists despite the prime minister’s assurance of 'no fresh arrest' during the dialogue with opposition coalition Jatiya Oikya Front. Such actions, the report observed, had stopped the opposition from carrying out election campaign.
The report mentioned that the attacks on opposition candidates and activists during the campaign created an uneven field for them ahead of the elections.
The TIB found that the ruling party men were actively engaged in campaigning in all the 50 seats.
In many cases, it observed, the administration and law enforcers were used in the campaign. And in some cases, the law enforcement and the public themselves joined the campaign alongside the ruling party men.
AL candidates spent more in campaign
TIB's analysis of campaign spending shows that each candidate spent around Tk 7.76 million for campaign -- from days before the announcement of polls schedule to the election day.
The average amount is three times more than the limit -- Tk 2.5 million for each candidate of a constituency -- set by the election commission.
Candidates of the ruling AL spent more, on average five times higher than the EC's threshold while the independent candidates spent the least, according to the TIB report.
Iftekharuzzaman termed the parliamentary elections “partially inclusive” but said the disproportion in electoral campaign was huge.
The TIB executive director also said the violation of the election code of conduct was rampant. The election commission was also not free from the violating the code.
“The role of the election commission was surely shameful and questionable and the role of law enforcing agencies was controversial as well. And that is why the election is questionable. It can be said that this was an unprecedented election, the results of which was discussed as unbelievable.”
In this context, he demanded a judicial inquiry into the allegations brought about the 11th parliamentary elections for “ensuring moral position and boosting confidence of the government.”
TIB trustee board chairperson Sultana Kamal said, “There were many mistakes in the way the election was conducted. This is why we hope the commission will analyse the validity of the mistakes to try to avoid its repetition in the next elections. Because we want to see that the representatives truly elected by the people are getting the chances the rule the country.”
She said, “The teaching of this election for the democratic process is, the lack of level-playing field will make the election questionable and controversial. This makes people suspicious about how far the elected representatives will take care of the interest of the people.”
Recommendations for fair polls
The TIB made six points of recommendations at the media conference to make the parliamentary election of the country fair and effective.
Those are: effective steps based on objective investigation into the allegations of multifaceted violation of code of conduct; analysis of the EC failure in stopping the violation and its publishing, and taking the allegations into cognisance, government initiative for judiciary investigation; enactment of law to appoint non-party election commissioners; making all the stakeholders including the EC, administration and law enforcement unbiased and free of partisan influence for holding a free and fair election under a party government; and digitisation of the electoral process and congenial atmosphere for polls observers and the media.
The research was conducted to analyse how far the EC, political parties/coalition and their candidates, administration, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders complied with laws and rules to carry out their duties as well as to estimate the money spent in campaign by candidates.
The report was prepared based on information and observation of the candidates, party leaders and activists, returning officers and other election officials, law enforcement agency officials, election tribunal officials, journalists and voters as well as data collected from the field between November 2018 and 10 January 2019.
The full report will be published later.
The report was presented by the senior programme manager of TIB’s research and policy department Shahzada M Akram. Other members of the research team were programme managers Juliet Rosetti, Taslima Akhter, Biswajit Kumar Das and assistant programme manager Nazmul Huda Mina.
TIB adviser (executive management) Sumaiya Khair and policy department director Mohammad Rafiqul Hasan were also present at the media briefing.