Innumerable allegations of election irregularities

Kamal Ahmed | Update:

.In my article about the national parliamentary elections, published a day before the 30 December polls, I had said the opposition’s arguments that an free and fair election was not possible under a political government, would be proven true if the polls were actually not credible. And that is what the opposition pointed out after election results were made public,

In another article published in Prothom Alo on 6 January 2014, there too I wrote that the political government was unable to hold a credible election. BNP should thank the ministers who went all out to prove the point.

BNP should thank the ministers. This time the number of Awami League’s parliamentary seats in the ‘inclusive’ election has exceeded even than that of the uncontested polls in 2014. This has robbed it of all credibility.

Despite 17 deaths in violence on the voting day, the election environment was comparatively peaceful. But the election was rife with allegations of irregularities. The allegations include stuffing the ballot boxes even before the voting began, obstructing voters from casting their votes, and stamping the ballot papers at will. The votes which were cast and votes of the winners show a similarity between the national election and the city corporation elections of Khulna, Rajshahi and Gazipur. So this has been a successful national election based of the city corporation model.

The staggering election results have analysts at a loss, trying to explain the number and percentage of votes. Several candidates including Abul Hasnat Abdullah of Barishal 1 got 99 per cent of the votes. In fact, quite a few candidates grabbed nearly 99 per cent of the votes. Many candidates got over 90 per cent of votes, which is unusual. Nizam Hazari, the undeclared ‘king’ of Feni, bagged all 3,167 votes of a polling station at Oxford School.

While casting votes, election commissioners Rafiqul Islam and Mahbub Talukdar did not find any agents of the opposition at the respective polling stations. Mahbub Talukdar said he received innumerable allegations of irregularities within hours of the beginning of the voting. The chief election commissioner, however, asked what the commission could do if a candidate was unable to deploy polling agents. In the face of allegations of detention and intimidation of agents, he asked the law enforcing agencies to protect the polling agents of the opposition party. It is unfortunate that within 24 hours the chief election commissioner failed to understand the difference between creating obstruction to the agents and inability to deploy agents.

The ruling Awami League’s National Election Conducting Committee co-chairman HT Imam and other leaders tried to say that the opposition coalition is so weak that they have no manpower to deploy polling agents.

The left alliance and the independent candidates also alleged that their agents were driven out. Despite the commission’s efforts to conceal evidence and proof of all types of irregularities, the social media is rife with videos of agents being driven out from the polling stations in some areas. These were not isolated incidents, but every common during the voting across the country. The statistics of casted votes prove the one-sided voting.

Local media, especially the private TV channels, invited analysts loyal to the ruling camp to their programmes where they talked on the future of the new government. A few of the channels, however, were exceptional. There was an allegation that cable operators suspended broadcasting of private TV channel Jamuna after it broadcast investigative reports on irregularities ahead of the election. Viewers could not watch Jamuna TV.

The international media, including BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Guardian, Independent, Deutsche Welle, Washington Post and the Economist, highlighted the irregularities of the election.  BBC reported that the law enforcement did nothing about the voters being unable to cast their votes. It also reported the stuffing of ballot boxes before beginning of the voting and control of polling centres by the ruling party men. The Financial Times also reported the irregularities of the election. It reported casting of false votes, obstructing voters from casting votes, driving out agents of the opposition party and unbelievable difference of votes.

Except the ruling Awami League, about all political parties brought about the allegations of vote rigging. President of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Mujahidul Islam Selim, rejected the election terming it ‘fake votes of a concocted election’.

The left alliance said by breaking down the system of a competitive election, the entire election has been made dysfunctional. Islami Shasontontro Andolon, which individually fielded highest number of candidates, rejected the election, terming it farce.

The opposition’s demand to hold a fresh election under a neutral interim government has been highlighted in the foreign media. Besides, the foreign media also reported that the election commission has accepted the allegations of irregularities and will investigate those.

As a result, the landslide victory of ruling Awami League will question the credibility of the election in the international arena. Human rights organisations expressed concern about the mass arrests and repression of the opposition leaders and activists before the election. After the announcement of the election results, the Human Rights Watch in a tweet expressed concern about the credibility of the election.

The opposition coalition of the Jatiya Oikya Front faced trouble in nominating candidates. Is this the reason behind the debacle? The obstruction was created by the government. Candidatures of upazila or union parishad chairmen and municipality mayors were cancelled due to the government’s manipulations. Many of them were arrested in fictitious cases. The ruling alliance itself faced internal conflicts and rebel candidates more than the opposition alliance. It is a wonder that the Jatiya Party, which is supposed to face big problems for nomination trade, has done better in the election. There were no reports that party chief HM Ershad and his wife Raushan Ershad joined the electioneering. Under this contest, it is a miracle that the Jatiya Party is the second principal party. It is difficult to ascertain as to how far the nexus of BNP and Jamaat had an impact on the election results. Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh secretary general, who fought in favour of Pakistan during the country’s liberation war, was elected an MP after being nominated by the ruling alliance.

What changes will be brought in the politics of the country due to polls results? Except seven elected members of parliament from the Oikya Front, none has the possibility to remain in the opposition in the parliament. Under such context, if the Jatiya Party takes seats in the opposition bench in the parliament, it would be considered as fake opposition party. Some leaders of this party as said they contested the election as part of the grand alliance, they want to stay as the partners.

Although BNP was not in the last parliament, they were the opponent of the government in the politics. It will be the same again this time too.

*Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam

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