Smart EC and elections without 'invitation'

While returning from Sydney on 10 November, I met some officials of a Bangladeshi private company at the Hong Kong airport. They went to South Korea to purchase machines. I asked them, how did you see South Korea? They replied, the development there is dazzling. Once upon a time South Korea used to dream of becoming one of the richest countries in Asia. Now they are competing with Europe and America. They also have big investments in Bangladesh.

I asked them whether they talked with the Bangladeshis who work in that country. They replied they talked with many of them. They are disappointed about the political situation of the country. They work hard and send money to the country, keeping the economy moving. There are about 70,000 expatriate workers in South Korea. If they see the political parties engaged in bickering, squabbling, fighting year after year around the elections – naturally they become disappointed. They want a good political environment in the country. All parties should participate in the election.

This seemed to echo of the sentiment of the expatriates in Sydney.

Around 100,000 Bangladeshi live in Australia and most of them are in Sydney. All sorts of opinions and divisions exist among Bangladeshis even there. Some of them are Awami League supporters, some are BNP supporters. Some are left oriented. But the general feeling of all of them is wanting the best for Bangladesh. They want success for Bangladesh. Almost all the expatriates I met in Sydney asked about the election of Bangladesh. They asked, will the election take place? Will all the parties participate? I do not have the answers. Those who control the state and politics, who are in power or envisage to ascend into power, may answer these.

Many expatriate friends admired the silver jubilee slogan of Prothom Alo- “Bangladesh will not lose” (harbe na Bangladesh). An engineer who graduated from BUET said, "I used to read Prothom Alo every day while living in the country." I read online now since I don't get the printed newspaper in Australia. At least every two hours I get the latest news from Prothom Alo. Despite being busy, expatriates regularly read Prothom Alo online out of love. They say the way Prothom Alo presents the stories of success and victory of ordinary people is incomparable.

The issue of education in Bangladesh also came up in the discussion. There are nearly three thousand Bangladeshi students in Australia, 90 percent of whom work alongside their studies.

An expatriate lawyer involved with the profession for three decades said that those who come from Bangladesh to study, first face language problems. Although they know the English language fairly well, they . cannot understand the accent. He stressed following the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA system.

On 11 November at Jubo League's anniversary, Awami League's senior leaders called upon the organisation's leaders and workers to act as vigilant guards against election tampering. Very good indeed. Elections are the only way to get into power in a democratic system. But that election must be acceptable to everyone.

Awami League leaders also said that no one will be invited to participate in the election. It has a meaning if you say it on behalf of the government or the Election Commission. Awami League leaders used to give various pieces of advice to bring the BNP to elections. What do you think now, is it better if BNP does not come? That is why the topic of ‘invitation' (dawat) was raised.

According to the constitution, election management is the responsibility of the Election Commission. And the responsibility of the government or administration is to ensure the election environment. If they could do that legally, there would not be so much fuss about the election. As a political party, Awami League cannot invite other parties. Like other parties, Awami League is one of the invitees in the election. It is natural to arouse suspicion in the public mind when an invitee says not to invite someone else.

There is some kind of unrest going on in the Election Commission regarding the announcement of the schedule. A commissioner said that the schedule will be announced in the first week of November. Voting will take place in the first week of January. Now it is heard that the schedule may be announced this week. The Islamic Andolon has already announced that the Election Commission will be besieged if the schedule is not based on consensus.

The members of the current Election Commission said after taking office that they will not hold elections like in 2014 and 2018. Through this, they pointed to the flaws and weaknesses of those two elections. Then they said that the election will not be credible if a party like BNP does not participate. But as things stand, there is a risk of worse elections than 2014 and 2018.

Till date the policymakers of the government used to talk about building a Smart Bangladesh. Now, even the Election Commission is talking about 'smart elections'. But how will they hold the election? By 'smart elections', they mean the submission of nomination papers online.

Election Commissioner Brigadier General (Retd.) Md. Ahsan Habib Khan said, 'Online Submission System' (ONSS) is a revolutionary step to submit nomination papers online as part of technology-based vote management.

Election management is also added to the era of Smart Bangladesh through this. But they do not guarantee that people will be able to vote smoothly. Candidates, parties, polling officers, presiding officers, returning officers are very important in elections. But the most important thing is the voters.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal said, "The whole country is in a frenzy over the elections." Every day there are arguments for and against it. It has even acquired a global dimension. Different countries of the world are interested to see our election. Observers from different countries or organisations will also come.

When he says these words, what is the reality? The reality is that the leaders of the ruling party are holding meetings and seeking votes for the boat. Leaders of other parties are either in jail or absconding to avoid jail. As he speaks these words, the country is under siege. People's normal life is being disrupted. Everything is for an election.

In an interview given to Prothom Alo, political scientist Al Masud Hasanuzzaman rightly said that one-sided elections will further jeopardise democracy. This means the political crisis will intensify. Uncertainty will increase in public life. Now the Election Commission has to decide whether they will conduct an 'uninvited' election or organise a free and fair election with the participation of all parties. They can look back and see how people are evaluating the previous commissions.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor at Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Syed Faiz Ahmed