EC itself dubious over installing CCTV cameras at all polling booths

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The election commission (EC) itself is now dubious with their plan to install close circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the polling centres of all 300 constituencies in the 12th parliamentary elections -- one among their 19 designed remedies to overcome 14 challenges in a bid to hold free, fair and credible voting.   

However, the election specialists said setting up CCTV cameras [to the polling booth] is a laudable initiative. But it is not the only means to ensure credible elections. With bringing the election field under the full grip of the commission, it is necessary to ensure equal participation of all [parties] in the elections -- integral parts of the free and fair polls.   

Under the incumbent EC, CCTV cameras were installed in the polling booths at by-polls to Gaibandha-5 and Faridpur-2 constituencies. Apart from this, several elections, Cumilla and Rangpur city corporation elections, were held under CCTV coverage.

The EC said the CCTV cameras are being set up by the third party at the cost of Tk 4,100 to Tk 4,600 per piece while the situation is observed centrally from the EC building in Dhaka.    

Until now, the EC has used CCTV cameras on a small scale.

So, they are dubious whether they will be able to bring all centres of 300 seats under CCTV surveillance. If they can, the question is: how will they observe the voting situations of all cenres from the commission's central office in Dhaka.    

According to the EC source, the commission has yet to finalise the numbers of voting centres and booths for the 12th national election. However, it is estimated that there will be 45,000 voting centres and 175,000 secret booths to cast votes. If the commission wants to install CCTV cameras per room, over 225,000 CCTV cameras will be required that would cost approximately Tk 1 billion.

Besides, a huge number of manpower and a place like stadium will be needed to monitor the situations of all centres centrally.  

The election commission Md Ahsan Habib told Prothom Alo that "After taking the helm, the incumbent commission used CCTV cameras to different vital elections, including city corporation, municipal and zila parishad elections. By doing so, the EC gained trust from the voters, political parties and the representatives. We identified irregularities in the by-polls to Gaibandha-5 constituency installing the CCTV cameras. Then the by-poll was suspended."      

When asked, Md Ahsan Habib told Prothom Alo that several hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras are needed to cover 300 constituencies with a large well-equipped technical team to operate them. So, it is a big challenge for the commission. There is also a question emerging whether the persons responsible will be brought to book immediately after being identified in the cameras.

Against this backdrop, they are considering how they will deal with the challenges, he added.    

The election commissioner said, "We are trying to make a balance between our capability and the advantages of the CCTV cameras. There is a discussion ongoing to bring highly risky and vital centres under CCTV coverage. It will be finalised before the election. The decision will be made obviously depending on the budget, manpower and the capacity of the monitoring team."    

Shusashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the CCTV camera is not the solution. Rather the solution is to make the elections competitive, and ensure equal participation of all [parties] with the commission playing neutral roles.

The EC would prevent the thieves from marring elections instead of patrolling them. The election-time government will be like such which will help EC discharge its duties neutrally, he added.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo online edition, has been rewritten in English by NH Sajjad.