When the present election commission was being formed, the burning question at the time was how an independent commission could hold a free and fair election under a party government. The commission was put to test in staging the local government elections, leading up to the national parliamentary polls. Their performance so far has been far from satisfactory. Given the display of muscle during the 29 March local government elections, we hope the election commission plays a more effective role in the 15 May Gazipur and Khulna city corporation elections.
Elections were held in those two cities prior to last general election. Then the Barisal, Sylhet and Rajshahi city elections will be held after Ramadan. Focus will be on the contest between the two major political parties. The ruling party will certainly want to back the five city corporations in the next seven months. This will mean pressure on the election commission.
The 133 local government elections on 29 March were rife with violence, indicating that free and fair elections will certainly be a challenge. The ruling party is desperate to win the polls by any means. Such violence during the local polls, just before the general elections, does not bode well. It is high time to be cautious.
A Juba Dal leader in Tangail was killed during the mayhem of the 29 March elections which saw armed clashes, ballot papers being snatched and even attempts to make off with entire ballot boxes. The election commission was simply not prepared to tackle such incidents. The election commission, in fact, hasn’t taken any measures to prevent such violence and irregularities.
A remark of chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda has been quite disheartening. He said, “Local elections are generally more competitive and that is why they cannot always be controlled.” This statement implies that the more the competition, the more the risk of violence. It means the election commission is not prepared for any competitive election!
Previously we saw 116 persons killed in the union parishad elections that were boycotted by BNP. Of the killed persons, 72 were Awami League leaders and activists. So does that mean there will invariably be violence during the elections? Can we never expect having a violence-free election? Or will muscle power prevail?
It is most unfortunate that despite certain successes such as the Rangpur mayoral polls, the people simply have no faith in the election commission. Its tarnished image is deteriorating further. Yet it remains complacent. It is as if winning the favour of the ruling coterie is all that matters. They appear least bothered about winning public trust. They should not put their credibility into further question.