The bottom line is, whether it is a national election or a local one, Awami League persons are both the contestants and the opponents in all cases. All the clashes, conflict and violence too are among the supporters of the contestants nominated by Awami League and the rebel candidates of the party. The attackers and the attacked are of the same party. So the BNP leaders and activists can have some respite where these elections are concerned.
More important than how many Awami League candidates won in the union parishad election, is how many of the rebel candidates won and how many candidates won uncontested. Being elected with no contest is not a healthy sign. In many areas it is seen that the Awami League candidate is in the 3rd or 4th position. For example, Awami League rebel candidate Bishakha Saha won the Joynagar union parishad election in Kalaroa upazila, Satkhira. Contesting under the auto-rickshaw election symbol, she secured 2703 votes. Her closest contender was independent candidate Joydeb Kumar Saha who secured 2267 votes. The candidate nominated by Awami League, Mohammad Shamsuddin Al Masud, contesting under the boat symbol, won 1713 votes. This is the "astute" decision of the party in selecting candidates.
Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar has said that uncontested elections are an omen of danger. He even questioned whether candidates who won uncontested, could be considered elected
Commenting on at least two persons being killed in clashes on the day of the union parishad election, the election commission secretary Md Humayun Kabir Khandaker said, the candidates, overcome with emotion, embroiled in clashes. According to him, this was an emotional election. People are prone to be emotional. But surely emotions cannot be the cause of anyone's death.
Elections were held on 20 September for 160 union parishads and 9 pourashavas. The election commission claims around 50 per cent of the votes in the union parishad election in EVM, 55 per cent of the votes in the pourashavas in EVM and over 65 per cent by ballot in the UP election were casted. Many are questioning whether that many voters even turned up at the voting centres. Earlier, in the national elections too, we saw the polling centres vacant throughout the day, but the election commission managed 60 to 70 per cent votes for some of the candidates. The magic of the Nurul Huda commission, for sure!
Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar has said that uncontested elections are an omen of danger. He even questioned whether candidates who won uncontested, could be considered elected. There are ample examples in our country where rival candidates are not even allowed to submit their nomination papers. Then again, the powerful "big brother" of the locality often decides who will contest in the election and who will not, in which union or upazila the contest will be or will not be held. I do not know of any other country where such elections take place. But everything is possible in Bangladesh. So I see no way at present of exiting from the circumstance which Mahbub Talukdar dubbed as an "omen of danger".
Mahbub Talukdar said another important thing, the conflict which has emerged over the elections will not be resolved without a political understanding. In the past, political problems were not resolved through any sort of understanding or discussions. One side gains victory through the defeat of the other. What will happen in the future?
Naughty folks say that huge sums of money would be saved if the elections all over Bangladesh were uncontested. The election commission wouldn't have to bear the expenses of such a large workforce. There would be no need for so many offices, EVMs and so on
When a one-sided election is held, the voters cannot choose the representative of their choice. For instance, say party 'B' has 40 per cent voters in an area, but they boycott the election because the polls won't be fair. What are the voters then to do under these circumstances?
In the previous local government election, the record to winning without votes was set in Feni. This time it was in Bagerhat. Some powerful person in the area felt his power would be consolidated further if the election in his area was uncontested and so decided there would be only one candidate, no more. Like the coronavirus pandemic, uncontested voting also has changed the scenario. That is why naughty folks say that huge sums of money would be saved if the elections all over Bangladesh were uncontested. The election commission wouldn't have to bear the expenses of such a large workforce. There would be no need for so many offices, EVMs and so on. They can just announce the election schedule, the last date of candidature withdrawal and announce the winner. Their constitutional obligations will be fulfilled.
That was about the local elections. In the case of the by-elections at a national level too, there has been one mishap after the other. The candidate nominated by Awami League in the Cumilla-7 by election, Dr Pran Gopal Dutta, was elected uncontested. BNP said from beforehand that they wouldn't contest. The Jatiya Party nominated candidate Lutfor Reza went to the constituency and submitted his nomination papers. The Awami League candidate went to the area and declared, "The voting will be fair in this constituency. I will accept the mandate of the people." Then on the last date for the withdrawal of candidature, with the exception of the Awami League contestant, all the candidates including Lutfor Reza, withdrew their candidature. He withdrew without informing his party leadership.
Many say that he withdrew in exchange of certain favours from the Awami League candidate. He was thus expelled from Jatiya Party. The party chairman's press secretary, Khandakar Delwar Jalali, in a press release said Lutfor Rahman had been relieved of all posts in the party, including primary membership. The Cumilla North committee was also dissolved. The expelled Lutfor Reza had been the party's central vice chairman and Cumilla North district Jatiya Party convener.
A similar occurrence took place previously in the Cumilla-5 vacant seat of former minister Abdul Matin Khasru. The Jatiya Party candidate was Jasimuddin. He too withdrew his candidature at the last moment.
Uncontested elections are taking place not only at the local level, but at the national level too, as we recall in the election of 5 January 2014. Whether or not driven by a twinge of conscience, Awami League general secretary sometimes blurts out the truth. A few days ago he said, teachers of the public universities act at the behest of the student leaders. And his assessment of the union parishad election was, the elections were not completely free and fair. But surely the Awami League general secretary knows what is to be done to ensure a free and fair election. But who will bell the cat?
* 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 editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir