The almost one-sided union parishad (UP) elections, boycotted by BNP and a number of other parties, continue amidst violence, clashes and even deaths in various areas. In the latest spate of violence, two persons were killed and 52 injured in clashes between supporters of rival candidates in eight districts, centering the elections there on 11 November. Earlier, three others had been killed in just a matter of days. These reports are a matter of concern.
According to the reports appearing in the media, these clashes are basically between the followers of the Awami League candidates and those of the party's 'rebel' candidates. Elections of the posts of 848 union parishad chairmen and members are due to be held on 11 November. The contestants include 691 rebel candidates.
In several places no candidates have been nominated, leaving the contest open. This indicates that even the ruling party is uneasy over party nominations. Even in the election that is in the offing, at least eight members of parliament have requested the prime minister and party to chief not to nominate anyone, but to leave the contest open.
Many feel that with these elections now being held on a party basis, the local government system has transformed into an extension of the ruling party
Overall, not only is the UP election this time being questioned, but its basic objective is being hampered too. Whether the election is held with the party symbol or is open, it must be held in a peaceful manner, where the voters can cast their vote freely. However, with BNP and some other parties boycotting this election, the space for contest has shrunk. One can hardly blame the opposition parties for their boycott where nomination by the ruling party guarantees victory. Even the opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party, has expressed its dismay over the election.
The tradition of local government goes way back in our country. This is not just a means to take government services to the people, but also ensures empowerment of the people at the grassroots. In the past when the local government elections were held on a non-partisan basis, there were less clashes and violence. There was a degree of balance in the governance structure. Many feel that with these elections now being held on a party basis, the local government system has transformed into an extension of the ruling party.
The objective of any election is for the people to freely choose their candidates. But when candidature in the UP election is withdrawn at the behest of the MP or there is a propensity to declare the winner without any contest, then this cannot be called an election. This is a selection.
It is the responsibility of the election commission to conduct the election. The KM Nurul Huda commission has been an absolute failure in carrying out this responsibility. Questions have even been raised as to whether this commission even has the moral right to carry out elections in its remaining term.
If nothing else, the election commission can at least suspend the elections in places where they feel the environment is not conducive to voting. At least lives and resources would be saved. The people do not want elections merely to stick to the formalities, nor do they want violence.