After all sorts of allegations by the political opposition regarding the Khulna city corporation elections, it had been expected that the Gazipur election would be relatively free, fair and peaceful. Unfortunately, the Election Commission (EC) failed to ensure this. They must bear the blame for this failure.
With the exception of a few centres, the Gazipur election appeared to be peaceful. But the unrest behind the scenes is gradually being exposed. The overall situation may not have been heated, but the Gazipur election was not free and transparent by any means. When the leaders and activists of the opposition have to remain in hiding or when the agents of any candidates are not allowed to perform their duties, this obstructs a free and fair election. It questions the election system. It is a precondition of any election for the candidates’ agents to be present. This is to ensure that no false votes are cast for the rival contestants.
In Gazipur, however, there were hardly any agents other than that of the ‘boat’ symbol, that is, the symbol of ruling Awami League. BNP agents were absent in most centres. There are allegations that many of the agents were picked up the day before by law enforcement agencies and kept outside of Gazipur. And when agents turned up in many centres, they were simply turned out. It would be laughable if anyone claimed, under these circumstances, that the election was free and fair.
The elements required for a truly free and fair election were mostly lacking in Gazipur. The contesting candidates from the outset had been demanding a level playing field. When five officials of the EC had visited Gazipur to meet those involved in the election, the candidates and members of civil society had lodged complaints about the biased stance of the administration and the law enforcement. But the EC failed to take any effective measures to address the situation and so the election was reduced to a farce.
Given our political culture, the winner takes all. It is the EC’s responsibility to ensure that by facilitating favourable circumstances for some quarters, others are not deprived. They failed to ensure this in Khulna and in Gazipur. The EC must now probe the allegations brought about in Gazipur and address these. The administration and the law enforcement are placed under the EC during the election. So the blame of their irregularities and misdeeds falls upon the EC.
The controversy over the Gazipur election before the polls remains even after the election. Awami League claims that it was a free and fair election, but their claims of a smooth sailing will have dire consequences. We hope the EC realises this, albeit rather late.