Miscreants damaged the EVM and vehicles at the Patharghata Girls High School centre
Jewel Shill

The KM Nurul Huda commission’s ‘success’ has been to conduct an election even worse than the last one. If irregularities and corruption are slightly lower in any election, the commission more than makes up for that in the next election.

From the very moment they took oath of office on 15 February 2017, the top officials of the election commission (RC) began violating the oath. Their incompetence, inefficiency and whims have pushed the commission to the brink of destruction. The officials of this constitutional body have exposed themselves to such an extent, no one even expects a moderately credible election from them, let alone an actually free and fair one.

Among the recent pourashava and city corporation elections conducted by the EC, the Chattogram City Corporation elections were by far the worst. Two persons were killed during the campaigns of this election and one was killed on the day of the election. Yet the EC had loudly declared that it was doing everything to ensure a free and fair election. Thousands of law enforcement personnel were deployed. The entire city was under security coverage. So how did all the violence and clashes take place? Who did the EC protect?

The CEC once even said that America should learn from Bangladesh elections. Fortunately they did not do so otherwise Donald Trump would still be the American president

The people of Chattogram joke about the election ‘presented’ by the EC after three weeks of enthusiastic campaigning. They are well aware of the reputation of the candidates in the city. The Chattogram city corporation had held six elections since 1996. In the first four, the opposition mayoral candidate won – Mohiuddin Chowdhury thrice and Manzurul Alam once. Even in the controversial election of 2015, BNP’s mayor candidate secured 304,000 votes. This time the BNP candidate secured only 52,000 votes. Other than the Awami League candidate, everyone forfeited their deposits. Even Awami League leaders and activists didn’t expect such results. Ziauddin Bablu, secretary general of the ruling Awami League-led mahajote (‘grand alliance) ally, Jatiya Party, termed the Chattogram city corporation election as one of violence and lawlessness. An election commission isn’t required if the election is going to be one of violence and anarchy.

The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the election commissioners, when taking oath, pledge to carry out their responsibilities in accordance to the law and with honesty. They pledge to uphold, support and protect the constitution.

Now it is for the people to decide whether they have done so. The constitution maintains that for the sake of a free and fair election, the EC can bring any member of the public administration or the law enforcement within its control. Yet how can the officials of the commission that prefer to remain subservient, bring members of the public administration and law enforcement under their control? On the contrary, they are the ones obeying out the orders of others throughout the election.

Another thing is that no matter what misdeeds and wrongdoings take place in any election, national or local, the commission officials have a ready answer. If the election is ridden with calamity, they say this is “a sign of stiff contest in the polls.” If there are a low number of votes cast, they say “the more developed the country is getting, the less people are interested in casting their votes.” They even use the US and other countries as an example. But the recent results of the US election do not indicate that. Over there, the voter turnout was 66.3 per cent. And in the Chattogram city corporation polls, even after all the manipulations, the turnout was only 22.50 per cent.

The KM Nurul Huda commission will one day have to answer why they failed to hold a credible election, even with a proper voters’ list

The officials sitting in the top posts of the commission perhaps think the people of the country are fools otherwise they wouldn’t constantly spew out such lies. The CEC once even said that America should learn from Bangladesh elections. Fortunately they did not do so otherwise Donald Trump would still be the American president.

The heat of the Chattogram city corporation elections even reached the national parliament on Wednesday. Two members of BNP called for an end to the farce in the name of election. In reply, the law minister Anisul Haque said that those who carried out the 15 February 1996 election, should not talk about fair elections. Even if BNP has lost its right to talk about fair elections because of a voterless election it conducted 25 years ago, what about the 105 million (10.5 crore) voters of the country? Why will they not be able to vote? The verdict of justice Khairul Huq, based on which Awami League abolished the caretaker system that it had brought about through a movement, had provision for elections under a caretaker government for two more terms. He said this can be done if parliament so wants, but the judiciary cannot be involved. In 2007-2008 the caretaker government was formed on that model and on 29 December 2008 Awami League swept to power with absolute majority.

The KM Nurul Huda commission took office on 15 February 2017 and so on 15 February this year they will have been four years in office. No commission in the past has managed to destroy the election system as this commission has done. Even their immediate predecessors, the Rakib commission, held several good elections. The commissions of ATM Shamsul Huda, Abu Hena and MS Sayeed had taken the national elections to a higher level and this was lauded nationally and internationally.

Awami League complained that the MA Aziz commission had added 12 million (1.20 crore) fake voters to the voters list in preparation for a staged election. But they weren’t able to hold the election and were forced to resign in face of a movement. The KM Nurul Huda commission will one day have to answer why they failed to hold a credible election, even with a proper voters’ list.

The present commission has just one more year in office. The Chattogram city corporation election was a big test for them. After the ongoing pourashava election, the UP elections are to be held. If we had a time machine to take us past 15 February 2022, we would see the people looking back at an election graph where, headed by KM Nurul Huda, the election commission with the commissioners – Mahbub Talukdar, Rafiqul Islam, Begum Kabita Khanam and Brigadier Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury – have repelled the voters from voting rather than encouraging them. They broke their pledge to protect the people’s right to vote. They failed to keep their commitment to the nation.

Surely the deeds of the Nurul Huda commission will be recorded in the annals of Bangladesh’s election history. I request the honourable members of the commission to give a thought to how their successors in the future will view these records – with pride or with shame?

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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