The election commission (EC) of chief election commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda may not have been able to do many things, but has succeeded in turning people away from the voting centres. Thank you, election commission. After all, ever since the first general election of undivided India in 1937, down till present times in Bangladesh, the elections have always been the root cause of all chaos. The people of this land created Pakistan through the elections. Then it was an election again that paved the way to independent Bangladesh. Now that we have achieved ‘everything’, there is nothing more to want. So if the EC has turned the people away from the voting centres, it has done us a favour. There was no end to the violence, clashes, killings, abductions and disappearances that have occurred over the elections in the past.
The problem, however, is with Mr Election Commission. If the people are actually adverse towards the election and if there is no need to vote for their representatives, then what is the point in even having the biggest election commission of the subcontinent? So that means these elections that are being held now are nothing but a means for KM Nurul Huda and his colleagues to hold on to their jobs.
This is a country where people are so avidly determined to cast their votes, that even an invalid 90-year-old drags himself to the voting centre with the help of other so that he can have his say.
In the eighties and nineties whenever the elections came around, whether union elections or even presidential elections, farmer Sadek and Sylhet’s Soifur would invariably enter the fray. The president would be elected through direct vote. Even last year in the Sylhet city corporation polls, many expatriate Bangladeshis came back to the country simply to cast their votes in the election. Voting is a sacred right of the people and it is the EC that is responsible for safeguarding this right. They have failed miserably to do so.
The highest number of votes in a national election was cast in 2008, that is, 87.96 per cent. In the 12 June 1996 election, 74.96 per cent votes were cast. In 2001 it was 75.59 per cent. No one challenged these numbers. But when the EC declared that there was an 80 per cent turnout in the 30 December elections, that was unbelievable. People saw one thing and the EC declared quite the opposite. Most of the voting centres were voter-less, so how could 80 per cent of the votes have been cast? Critics say that the votes were cast the night before, clandestinely. But the people of Bangladesh didn’t struggle and give their lives for a clandestine election.
Under the present EC, 78 per cent votes were cast in the Rajshahi city corporation elections last year and 75 per cent in Sylhet. The commission brought the number down to 31.5 per cent for the Dhaka North city corporation polls. The same descending order of votes emerged in the upazila elections. Within a matter of months, the EC managed to create a public aversion to voting. If the EC continues in this manner, it won’t be long before we have completely voter-free voting centres!
The benefits of this will be, firstly, the candidates will no longer have to take the trouble to go from house to house, campaigning for votes. Secondly, the candidate will not have to spend anything on campaigning. Thirdly, there will be no need to appoint presiding officers and polling officers at the voting centres. Fourthly, there will be no need to deploy police, ansars, RAB, BGB personnel to maintain law and order around the centres. Fifthly, the polling agents of the opposition candidates won’t have to flee from their homes before the election.
The day that the fifth upazila election results were published, CEC KM Nurul Huda was speaking as chief guest at a meeting regarding law and order of the Bogura upazila polls. He told everyone to rise about all fears and to protect the votes. It is hard to control one’s laughter at his statement. As head of the EC, he is meting out lessons about free and fair polls, when his EC could not hold a single free and credible election. He also said that in future, electronic voting machines (EVM) would be used in all elections. “It is easy to vote with EVMs and the results will be available in a matter of one or one-and-a-half hours.” But by then, there will hardly be any voter interested in going to the voting centres, let along using the EVMs.
Meanwhile, while the CEC spoke in Bogura, in Dhaka election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar expressed his dismay at the election system and the future of democracy. He said that the biggest matter of concern in the upazila elections was people’s aversion towards voting. He said that this apathy towards the election was pushing the country towards the brink of an abyss. He said that authoritarian rule was sending Bangladesh down an uncertain path and this was in no way acceptable.
Mahbub Talukdar informed the people that we did not want to be part of this funeral for democracy. However, the manner in which EC was turning people away from the elections, the death of democracy was inevitable.
Actually the people of Bangladesh are not apathetic towards voting. This situation has emerged simply because the EC has failed to ensure the preconditions for an election. Before the local ‘mastaans’ would tell people not to take the trouble to go to the voting centres to vote... they should just take it for granted that their votes had been cast for them. The present EC has created that environment.
There have been 12 election commissions and 12 chief election commissioners in Bangladesh so far. The first CEC was Mohammed Idris. The last so far is KM Nurul Huda. And there were 10 in between the two. And there were two categories among them. One was of those who managed to fulfil people’s aspirations for a free and fair election. Despite all sorts of obstacles and limitations, Justice Rauf, Mohammad Abu Hena, MA Sayeed, ATM Shamsul Huda, managed to meet the people’s aspirations.
The other category was of those who failed to present a free, fair and credible election. They include Justice Nurul Islam, ATM Masuud, Sultan Hossain Khan, AKM Zakaria, Rakibuddin Ahmed and others.
It is for the people to decide in which category to place KM Nurul Huda and his colleagues. The most castigated CEC of the country, Justice Aziz, could not hold a single election. He was forced to resign. The Rakib commission held a one-sided election in 2014. The 30 December 2018 election held under the Nurul Huda commission may have been inclusive, but certain not free or fair. And the disinterest in the recent upazila elections is a fallout of that.
So once again, thank you Mr Election Commission.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir