The election of the two city corporations in Dhaka is a local government election. Polling stations would have been flooded with voters before as any election in Bangladesh has always been quite a festival. But the expectations were in mire because of very low turnout. Besides, allegations of various irregularities have made the election debatable. Citizens desisted from voting, sending a very harsh message to the ruling authorities. It is high time they realise it.
Voters in the capital of any country are considered to be the most advanced and aware group. The metropolis is the king of the cities. But the dignity was smeared because of the election.
The politics and reality of Sunday's hartal (general strike) following the allegations of vote rigging and rejection of the election results by the opposition BNP are understandable. People did not respond to the strike or participate in it spontaneously. However, it never means that the people’s reluctance to the strike was a manifestation of support for the ruling party.
One truth emerged from the conflicts between the two major political parties of the country which is people’s disregard for voting and conventional politics. Regardless of the debate, whether the election was full of irregularities or free and fair, it must be acknowledged that what happened in the 1 February city polls was totally unfortunate. This is a warning for the current political condition.
A number of BNP leaders insisted that their leaders would go to vote on the election day no matter what. They must have gone to vote, we believe. But the overall picture is not the same. Many polling centres remained empty throughout the day.
BNP has a political position to explain the cause of the party’s continued political helplessness and it is well-known. They are the likely beneficiaries of the low turnout in some cases. But refusing votes by more than 70 per cent of the city dwellers is an indicator of an unusual situation. None other than the two key political opponents are responsible for this.
When the most advantageous part of civic life in the country loses trust in the electoral process, the society must face the consequences. If this situation continues, the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies and the rule of law can suffer greatly. The significance of refusing to vote is multidimensional. Not only is it a manifestation of distrust to the two major parties, it is also a strong message to them. The message is, the people are drained. The introduction of modern technology (EVM) is particularly attractive to young and new voters. Young people are the majority in the civil society of the capital. These young people turned away from Saturday's vote.
Citizens' distrust of the election has been created either because of political reality or because of the fact that elections are being held the way that people lost their trust in politics. It is quite difficult to pick one from the two reasons. In a democratic society, elections and politics are interrelated. In the Dhaka city polls, people have given a signal of distrusts to both.
In many countries of the world, the election is not considered valid if more than 50 per cent votes are not cast. Many countries hold new elections. It is ridiculous and utterly disappointing that the election commission termed the polls as ‘vote of the century’ and declared the election that received less than 30 per cent votes as a fair one. It is nothing but insulting people’s voting rights.