An election to maintain constitutional continuity

A man cast his ballot at the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Govt. Girls' High School polling centre, Dhaka.Tanvir Ahammed

Election is a nice word, but was this an election in the true sense of the word? A large political party like BNP, along with its supporters, remained away from the fray. So this election can in no way be called inclusive.

If an election is to be inclusive, all parties must join in and there must be a substantial voter turnout. Neither of this happened in this election. I was at a news channel up till 12:00 noon. Till then, according to reports, in no centre was the turnout more that 5 per cent or 10 per cent. According to these calculations, if there is no form of manipulation, then there should be no more than around 24 to 25 per cent votes cast over the entire day. Even so, the election commission maintains that 40 per cent votes were cast countrywide. Yet according to their own calculations, till 3:00 in the afternoon, 26.37 per cent of the votes had been cast around the entire country. The ruling party had tied to ensure a 50 per cent turnout. However, it ultimately failed to drawn in the desired number of voters.

Many people say that the voting took place in a peaceful manner this time. One person died in election violence on the day in Munshiganj. There were isolated incidents of violence here and there, in various places. In a country like ours with a population of 170 million, unless over a hundred people die in election violence, we take it to be a peaceful election. After all, people’s lives here are of little value. We also do not really take into consideration the deaths and injuries that take place in violence before and after the election.

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BNP called for a hartal on the day of the election, but there is no reason to attribute the low voter turnout to the hartal. Die hard supporters of BNP were hardly expected to go to vote. Awami League also has die hard supporters. Outside this, there are a large percentage of swing voters in the country. They are not committed to any particular party but they are enthusiastic about the election. The swing voters have a significant role in winning and losing. As the choice of candidates was very limited this time for the swing voters to choose from, many of them did not feel the urge to go to the polling centres.

That is why the ruling Awami League people would likely go to the polling stations eventually. However, there are doubts as to whether they actually went to the voting centres or not. The thing is, if people get to know that the results are pre-determined, then there is no reason for them to take the trouble and go all the way to the polling centres to vote.

Democracy means a meaningful election. In our country an election must be held every five years. The constitution does not say what the voter turnout must be for the election to be credible. Even if only one per cent of the voters cast their votes, the election is credible according to our constitution. So legally speaking, this election cannot be challenged.

From the very beginning we noticed that the election commission remained silent on many issues. They said many contradictory things that brought them to the headlines often. They were not, however, every eager to address any irregularities in the field. And worst of all, even after a candidate’s phone conversation was leaked, we did not see any action being taken against him.

After the questionable elections of 2014 and 2018, this time the election was not inclusive either. In effect, we have fallen into a long-term one-party government system. More importantly, we have achieved nothing through this election.

In Munshiganj someone was hacked to death. A minister openly was stamping the ballots, another minister’s son was casting fake votes. Even though an Awami League candidate’s candidature was cancelled for his misbehaving with the a police officer-in-charge (OC), such action has been rare.

We saw newspaper reports of candidates violating the code of conduct after the election schedule was declared. All we saw in response was some words of warning, some explanations being sought. But action such as candidacy being cancelled or a couple of presiding officers or polling agents being withdrawn, was extremely negligible.

BNP and like-minded parties called for a hartal on the day of the election. On the night before, crude bombs were exploded in Sylhet, Habiganj and various other places. Some polling centres were set on fire. People had apprehensions that there may be violence on the day of the election. Other than a few stray incidents, there was no violence with BNP. One reason for this is that our administration is not neutral. If the administration is neutral, there could have been a lot of trouble between Awami League and BNP in the circumstances. In a way, it is good that this chaos did not occur. Violence leads to innocent people being killed.

BNP boycotted the election this time. They call upon the people to boycott the election by not voting. But the election was eventually held. BNP had done the same in 2014. BNP will have to do some retrospective thinking as to what they have achieved by political programmes such as boycotting the polls. They will also have to realise that programmes like hartals and blockades have become blunt political weapons.

After the questionable elections of 2014 and 2018, this time the election was not inclusive either. In effect, we have fallen into a long-term one-party government system. More importantly, we have achieved nothing through this election. We hardly see any hope of emerging from the political crisis.

All in all, this election has been an election to maintain constitutional continuity. By means of this election, the present ruling quarters, legally, gain the legitimacy to remain in power yet again. However, they now face the crisis of moral legitimacy.

* Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher                             

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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