Arguments such wins just reinforce

Khawaza Main Uddin | Update:

An electioneering camp of the opposition BNP`s mayoral candidate in Khulna city elections on 15 May 2018 came under attack. Photo: Prothom AloIt's reminiscence of the colonial era when the native officers of the British government had carried out almost all of their masters' orders to subjugate the people in this part of the world!

More than 70 years after the end of direct colonial rule, on 26 June 2018, the public servants displayed similar ‘loyalty and skills’ in holding Gazipur civic polls.

They proved they matter more than the voters do in deciding win or loss for a candidate. The persons entrusted with official responsibilities ensured the election situation to be what they often state as "under control" -an expression which is inherently devoid of liberty, fairness and justice.

So, the actual winner, if any, in the elections marked by intimidation of one side, manipulation of the process and stuffing ballot papers is none but the polling officials and the election commission as the ultimate authority.

The victory for the ruling party candidate - Awami League's Jahangir Alam as Gazipur City Corporation mayor - rather proves the apprehensions expressed by his contestant Hasan Uddin Sarker of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), about free and fair election to be true in the first place.

This kind of ballot has added to the list of seriously questionable voting as reported in Khulna City Corporation on 15 May as well, when another AL candidate, Talukder Abdul Khalek, was declared the winner.

Bangladeshis witnessed similar elections in two Dhaka city corporations and Chittagong City Corporation in 2015 and series of other local government bodies since 5 January 2014.

In all these cases, what comes out as reality is that the winning candidates, who wanted to lead the people to do good for them, instead denied them the right to choose their representatives. The winners, honestly, represent more the ones who played behind-the-scenes role in showing them as 'public representatives' in stage-managed elections.

And this happens when it's yet to be ascertained whether the principal opposition party would join the next general elections in six months time, without a caretaker government it demands for holding free and fair polls.

Has the Gazipur model not rather exposed the ruling camp's position on how it wants to hold the impending parliamentary polls that potentially change a government?

AL general secretary Obaidul Quader may not concede the fault on their part, since he already claimed his party had no record of rigging polls. He need not know either how truthful do the people believe his statement to be, following records of voting in the past five years.

However, his opposite number, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, after the Gazipur city polls, reminded the people of abolishing of the caretaker government system by the AL in 2011 and iterated: "Fair election is not possible in the Awami League's rule." His was earlier a mere statement but today it's not so.

The next thing the BNP leader demanded, under the circumstances, is the reconstitution of the election commission before the all-important general elections. What Fakhrul's party, which was also a ruling party for many years, is yet to raise is whether our 'powerful' bureaucrats will continue to treat the people of the republic as their subjects.

If the commission headed by chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda is meant for holding a Gazipur-like national ballot, it has already been 'sold out' in terms of its credibility. If the message from Gazipur or Khulna is just to demonstrate it as prelude to the type of parliamentary polls the ruling party loves to see through, to avoid possible 'people's betrayal', that's completely a different issue.

The ruling camp, by using coercive forces of the state, despite no fear of losing power in local government elections, may have effectively asked the opposition political parties not to join the next general elections so that a 5 January 2014-like ballot could be replicated easily.

In view of the rulers' attitude towards clinging on to power at any cost, a renegade politician may try to write a long piece focussing only on one question: Can the incumbents win at all general elections without rigging or manipulation?

Already, there is a book titled “The Politics and Law of Democratic Transition: Caretaker Government in Bangladesh”, based on Sonia Zaman Khan’s PhD thesis. The author argued there that the model of poll-time government worked well in presenting four reasonably fair general elections in the country.

Since voting was introduced to the people in Bangladesh, even during the colonial rule, it not only becomes a festival but also a question of life and death to many people.

History says, erstwhile Pakistan dictator Ayub Khan's 'development decade' faltered largely for his basic democracy that deprived the masses of exercising voting rights.

The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 itself was for democracy.

It's hard to understand how any design by anyone to thwart the people would be a welcome gesture in today's Bangladesh.

* Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist. He can be contacted at khawaza@prothom-alo,info

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