A village cop stands guard at Purbavag Model Government Primary School polling centre in Dakshin Surma upazila during the Sylhet-3 by-polls on Thursday
Anis Mahmud

Criticising the incumbent election commission (EC) bitterly, the opposition lawmakers on Saturday said democracy that existed for a day is also disappearing now.

People’s trust in the electoral system has lessened. If voters do not go to the polling centres what is the necessity of having an EC then, they posed questions

The opposition parliamentarians were speaking in the parliament on Saturday noon when voting to the by-polls of Sylhet-3 (Dakshin Surma, Fenchuganj, Balaganj upazilas) was underway.

Voter turnout was low in Sylhet-3 by-polls. In fact, low voter turnout was seen in several local government elections since the 11th parliamentary election in 2018.

Various political parties including BNP and Jatiya Party (JP) have been blaming the incumbent EC for this situation.

Eminent citizens of the country also hold the EC responsible for destroying the electoral system.

The Delimitation of Constituencies Bill, 2021 was passed in the parliament on Saturday. Two BNP lawmakers and a JP lawmaker took part in the discussion on the bill and they raised questions over the electoral system.

Opposition JP lawmaker Shameem Haider Patwary said people’s trust on the election system is shirking. Democracy that existed for a day is vanishing too. If the opposition can’t hold its head high in parliament, the government is compelled to turn into an oppressor. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And, they don’t want it happen, he added.

Shameem Haider Patwary said, “We need to find out whether people are going to voting centres or not before the delimitation of constituencies. Voting is underway in Sylhet today (Saturday). We don’t know how many voters would go to the centres. If people don’t go to voting centres what will we do with the delimitation of constituencies, the EC and the budget?”

The EC has been given an absolute power but it doesn’t exercise it, he said adding people are not going to voting centres and that is the biggest national crisis.

Experts observed people have in fact become somewhat reluctant to cast ballots following the one-sided national elections since 2014. They said electoral system has collapsed because of the various incidents of irregularities and occupying polling stations during voting. There has been a perception that voters do not have any role in determining the polls results. That is why a large portion of the voters is reluctant to cast votes.

Experts said nowadays people don’t pay much attention on election results because they have nothing to gain here. Besides, people don’t want to involve in trouble. Personal security is the main thing to the people now and they consider it as a big issue. People have no interest for democracy due to insecurity and lack of trust.

Voter turnout was 80 per cent in the 11th parliamentary elections held on 30 December 2018. The election created huge controversy in the country’s politics. BNP alleged Awami League stuffed ballots in many polling stations the night before the election. Voter turnout was 100 per cent at 213 centres in 103 constituencies. After that national election, voter turnout started dropping in local government polls.

The Delimitation of Constituencies Act, which was passed in the parliament on Saturday, stated no question can be raised on the delimitation of constituencies in the court.

BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid proposed to repeal the law saying the EC has lost the trust and if the election is disrupted too, where will candidates go? The law is incomplete and it must have the provision allowing an opportunity to go to the top court, he added.

Taking part in the discussion, BNP lawmaker from woman reserved seat Rumeen Farhana said the constitution states the formation of parliament through direct election. How is the direct election was seen on 5 January 2014. Awami League had secured more seats required to form a government before even a vote was casted. Only Allah knows whenever in future people would vote directly, she added.

Rumeen Farhana said things like voter day, voter list and delimitation of constituencies are heard now. Do these have any necessity after the 2018 election? she asked.

On the process to form the EC, she said there must be a law on the formation of EC as per the constitution. The EC would be formed based on the law and it’s mandatory. Otherwise, formation of the EC is unconstitutional, Rumeen Farhana added.

Replying to the remarks of the opposition parliamentarians, law minister Anisul Huq said as per the constitution if any crime is committed, it can be placed before the Supreme Court. This law is in effect. Like BNP, it hasn’t been annulled through a martial law.

But, if any commission works on conducting an electron, at that time anybody cannot go to the court immediately to suspend the election. This provision is necessary to hold the election in a fair manner, he added.

Referring to BNP, the law minster said, “They (BNP) never held a fair election so they won’t understand it.”

Though the opposition lawmakers raised the questions on the electoral system and low voter turnout, but the law minister did not make any clear remarks on the matter.

On 14 December last year, 42 eminent citizens of the country sent a letter to the president demanding the formation of a supreme judicial council to probe nine specific allegations, including severe misconduct and discrepancies, brought against the EC during the 11th parliamentary election.

Later on 17 January, they sent another letter to the president. However, they are yet to receive any reply.

On the opposition lawmakers’ discussion on people’s shirking trust on electoral system and voting, Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan), told Prothom Alo that voters have a perception that ruling party’s nominees would win the polls.

So, casting vote does not matter. Voting has turned to a worthless formality now. However, election is the lone constitutional way to change power. If it stops then the opportunity to shift power through unconstitutional means emerges and this would not bring any good to anybody, he added.