Most of Jashore's election observation agencies are ‘baseless’

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The ‘Human Rights Voice’ is one of the 21 agencies authorised by the Election Commission (EC) to monitor the elections in the six constituencies of Jashore. As per the documents of the EC their office is on the second floor of a building along the Karbala road in the city.

However, visiting that place Sunday, it was found that it was actually an office of a local weekly named ‘Bajrakalam’. A signboard of Human Rights Voice was hanging in front of that office. There was so much dust on the lock that it was clear that the door hadn't been opened for a long time.

The people nearby could not provide any information when asked about the agency. They said they don’t know about its activities. The office remains closed most of the time. They were surprised to know that an organisation such as this has been given the responsibility of election observation.

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Later, this correspondent contacted the number given on the signboard of the agency. A person named Nurul Amin received the call, who claimed to be the editor and publisher of Bajrakalam. He asked this correspondent to contact later and talk face to face.

When asked how many persons will monitor the polls from their organisation, whether they are politically affiliated or not, how much will they get as honorarium and whether they will be trained or not, he said some 60 individuals of the agency will observe the polls in the six constituencies of Jashore. None of them have any political affiliation. But, there might be supporters. The organisation doesn’t have any paid employees. Its members will work as the election observers and they won’t be paid for that.

However, Nurul Amin has been found to be the former joint convener of Jashore district Jatiya Party (JaPa). He is now only a supporter of the JaPa.

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The EC has published the final list of local election observation agencies for the forthcoming 12th parliamentary elections. Some 917 observers from 21 election monitoring agencies have got the approval from the EC in the six constituencies of Jashore.

The other 20 agencies in the list are - Manobadhikar O Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (MOSUS), Social Advancement and Cooperation Organisation (SACO), Lutfar Rahman Bhuiyan Foundation (LRB), Development Partner (DP), Bibi Achhia Foundation, Jatiya Nirbachon Porjobekkhon Parisad (Janipop), Banchte Shekha, International-ASF-Legal Aid Foundation, Biyan Mani Society, People’s Association for Social Advancement (PASA), SAARC Manabadhikar Foundation, Prokash Gono Kendra (PGK), Institute for Environment and Development (IED), Samaj Unnayan Proyash, Sangati Shamaj Kallyan Sangstha (SSKS), Banchita Shamajkalyan Sangstha, Election Monitoring Forum, Sufia Hanif Foundation and Rajarhat Swabalambi Sangstha.

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Prothom Alo discovered that out of the agencies listed for election observation in Jashore, only three are actively operating. The rest merely exist on signboards displayed in front of other organisations, lacking any visible activities and employees.

Shajahan Nannu, the Vice-President of the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (EDAB) in Jashore, remarked, "Most of these agencies are baseless and non-existent, with only a few actually engaged in operations."

To authorise an agency for election observation, the EC conducts verifications based on intelligence information.

The Banchita Shamajkalyan Sangstha focuses on the rights and health services of sexual workers, with its office located in the Babubazar Lohapatti area of the city.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Hamida Khatun, general secretary of the organization, said, “We don’t have any experience in election monitoring. They have selected 40 persons to monitor elections in the Jashore-3 constituency for the first time. The allowances and honorarium are yet to be fixed.” She claimed none of his organization has any political affiliations.

The agency named Bachte Shekha has an office in the city’s Arabpur area, and it is operating. Executive director of the agency Palash Hubert said they had been monitoring polls since 1996. “We haven’t discussed the honorarium as yet,” he said. He added that 12 members of their organisation will monitor the polls in the Jashore-3 constituency.

The office of the Institute for Environment and Development (IED) is located on the Ghoap Nawapara road in the city. Bithika Sarker, a representative of the agency, said, “It’s a branch office. Our central office is in Dhaka. We appointed five observers in the polls. All of them are employees of this organisation."

Regarding this matter, Administrative Officer Firoz Ahmed from the Jashore district administration office stated, “We have the list of the organizations that participate in the monthly NGO coordination meetings. However, we have the addresses and names of the representatives for only a few of the 21 agencies assigned the task of election monitoring. I don't know about the other agencies on the list.”

Anisur Rahman, the senior election official of the district, mentioned that the list of agencies designated to observe the polls was not prepared in their office. These agencies directly applied in Dhaka, and the EC gave them final approval after verification.