The election that no one wins

Ali Riaz | Update:

Illustration : Niaz Chowdhury TuliOver the last few years, an election system has been created in Bangladesh where many are elected, but no one wins. In fact, everyone loses – individuals, institutions, and the entire system. The list of winners remains blank, while the list of losers steadily grows long. The manner in which each and every election is being rendered controversial, the media will soon run out of adjectives to describe such polls. The Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) election held on Monday has just added another chapter to the long list.

The results of the various halls announced on Monday night, and that of DUCSU on Tuesday, in which the post of DUCSU vice president went to quota reforms movement leader Nurul Haq, has not deducted from the stigma in any way. Not a single leader is saying with wholehearted conviction, “I have won.”
Even before the voting ended on Monday, other than the ruling party’s student front Chhatra League, all others boycotted the polls and demanded a fresh election. Then when the university vice chancellor Akhteruzzaman announced the results of the election yesterday morning, the Chhatra League activists began booing and protesting. So this election was not even acceptable to them.
Ten teachers of the university monitored the election and before the results were announced, they observed, “This election should be suspended and a fresh schedule announced immediately.” There is no need to relate the incidents that occurred during the election, the irregularities, the anger of the students and the protests. The only one who expressed his happiness was the vice chancellor of the university. And yet his colleague, the chief returning office, expressed dismay at the very same election. At the very outset of the election, ballot boxes previously stuffed with sealed ballot papers were found in a hall. The pro vice chancellor said, “We cannot deny the responsibility for this irregularity.”
It is not as if the discrepancies in the DUSCU election were sudden or that these occurred because of the irresponsibility of any individuals. The previously stamped ballot papers, the full ballot boxes being whisked away, the ballot papers having no serial numbers, sending the ballot boxes to the halls on the day before the election despite objections, not addressing the hindrances to non-residential students casting their votes, Chhatra League activists not being prevented from intentionally creating long voter lines – all this was pre-planned and would not be possible without the university authorities’ connivance.
The manner in which the vice chancellor and some of his colleagues endeavoured to ensure the victory of the ruling party’s student front, is shameful. No matter how they point to certain results to ‘prove’ that the election was fair, their role remains besmirched. For the first time since the country’s independence, the DUCSU election has been tarnished and rendered controversial by the university administration. This is even more unfortunate and damaging than the ballot boxes being snatched away by armed hoodlums of the ruling Awami League in the 1973 DUCSU election. This time the administration and the teachers have been directly involved. This is the defeat of Dhaka University and its teachers.
The overt partisan stance of the teachers and administration is unfortunate, but does not come as a shock. After all, over the past few decades, the last one decade in particular, the teachers are under control not only of a political party, but of its student activists too. I have to repeat my words of four years ago, “Due to party loyalty, the relationship between the teachers and the student activists is more of party comrades than teachers and students. Not only that, but the student leaders have even easier access to the ruling powers than the teachers who are also loyal to that party. So the student leaders become their conduit to the powers that be. And it is nothing new for such relations and contacts to be used for appointments in the administration too. The ruling party student leaders and activists take it upon themselves to protect those appointed to the administration in such a manner.” [Prothom Alo 1 September 2015]. The teachers are now paying back for that protection.
This shameful chapter in the history of DUCSU elections is just a continuation of the disintegration of the overall election system, the biggest instance being the 30 December parliamentary polls. The Dhaka University vice chancellor and the ruling party-backed teachers were well aware of what was going on. After all, it is important to prove that the election system is not effective and so should be discarded. They had to strip off any vestige of self respect they have had to do the task. The consequence of this can only be horrifying.
The institutions of the country are being destroyed. Despite this horrendous onslaught of partisan power, people still have hope in Dhaka University because of certain teachers and because of the students. How realistic this hope may be is another question, but the public still draws inspiration from this university. The DUCSU election has been an attempt to destroy that hope too.
This controversial election has been a defeat for the vice chancellor as an individual, the teachers collectively, and for Dhaka University as an institution. Despite this long list of defeats, there has been victory too. This victory lies in the bold manner in which the students in the various halls stood up in resistance against all plans and ploys to rig the polls. Amidst the defeat, they are the ones who have emerged victorious in the election.

* Ali Riaz is visiting professor of government and politics at Illinois State University in the US. This piece appeared in print in the Bangla version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here in English by Ayesha Kabir

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