‘EC looks unprepared, short of confidence’

AKM Zakaria | Update:

Sharmin MurshidWith every passing day, it is becoming even more difficult to remain hopeful of a free and fair parliamentary election, polls observer and civil society body Brotee chief executive officer Sharmin Murshid has said.

The election commission must take some steps to address the prevailing situation, she told Prothom Alo in an interview.

Sharmin hoped things would improve as now army have been deployed. She said people have faith in the army as they had played an important role during the past elections. However, the situation is a bit different this time around.

“As per the current rules, army can’t do anything without the approval of the magistrate and the deputy commissioner. The big question is how effectively the army will be able to act within such bindings,” Sharmin said.

Mentioning that army were deployed under the command of the election commission during the 9th parliamentary polls held in 2008, she pointed out that the current EC has no command over the army. “The commission has to wait for the magistrates and the DCs.”

In response to a question about the kind of election she predicts, the Brotee CEO said information from the field suggests people are apprehensive about the polls.

“Our organisation works with the youths all over the country. They told us that they’re in fear of going to the polling stations. Actually, we do not realise many things staying in Dhaka. In a nutshell, it can be said that we are skeptical.”

Sharmin said the EC has to give a strong message to the people to disperse their fear and skepticism about the election and put emphasis on keeping the home ministry accountable to the commission.

Citing example of the initiatives the EC had taken in 2008, the civil rights activist said those steps had helped people believe in the EC [about its intention and capability] but this did not happen this time around.

“Only three more days are left before the elections. This is why the commission has to send a message to the people so that they can have the confidence to go to the polling centres.”

The Brotee CEO said this is the first time the EC has not given them formal permission to monitor the polls.

“I was surprised to learn their decision ... but we’ll still monitor the election in a small scale. We have sent our guidelines to the youths we work with around the country. They will write down their voting experiences. This information will help us in our research.”

She said being a registered body of the United Nations, Brotee strictly follows all of its guidelines for polls observation. “Even then not getting the permission is astounding.”

The polls observer thinks monitoring of the elections will be limited as the commission has issued tougher guidelines for journalists and the observers. “This will raise questions about fairness of the voting and the election.”

Evaluating the activities of the election commission so far, Sharmin Murshid said the commission seems to be unprepared.

“It seems the commission is not prepared and [commissioners are] fighting among themselves. The commission also is suffering from lack of confidence. It has done a number of things that are either motivated or done because of immaturity,” she observed.

Responding to a question about international observers, Sharmin said denying permission to the international observers will make them think that there is lack of fairness in the polls.

“In our country, the winning and the losing parties take opposite stand about election results. This is why the international observers’ remarks are important. Their absence will raise questions about the upcoming elections.”

She, however, wants to remain hopeful about the election until the last moment.

She called on the voters to cast ‘Tender Vote’ talking to the election officials of concerned polling centres if they find that his / her vote has already been cast by someone else.

“That vote will not be counted but there will, at least, be records about how many voters could not cast their votes or how many fake votes were cast.”

*This report, originally appearing as an interview in Prothom Alo print edition, has been written as a news story in English by Shameem Reza

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