Will the national election be of the same 'model'?

Other than voters, unauthorised persons were also seen in the secret ballot booth at the Alinagar Government Primary School centre in SarailFile Photo

Ruling Awami League's unilateral control of the by-elections to six seats on Wednesday was quite blatant in many areas. Even so, the voters did protest whenever they had the chance and when the situation permitted. It was by a very narrow margin that independent candidate of the much-talked-about Bogura-4 seat, Ashraful Hossain, better known as Hero Alam, lost to the candidate of Awami League's allied party, Jashod.   

There are speculations that the ruling quarters were quite perturbed that, despite having no party label, Hero Alam came within such close reach of victory. Overall, however, the disinterest of the voters in this by-election is being seen by analysts as people's lack of confidence in the election, a sort of protest.

The situation on the day of the by-election and the results have apparently not served to increase people's faith in the election, rather has diminished it. And it seems that people' doubts have even further increased regarding the national election to be held in about a year or so.  

Many leaders of the opposition BNP feel that Awami League is introducing a new 'model' for elections by lending support to candidates who have broken away from BNP and making space for its allies in certain seats. Awami League may try to proceed in the coming national election in a similar manner. BNP is remaining alert about this, though Awami League denies any such new model.

The Brahmanbaria-2 seat was in the limelight this by-election. Awami League went all out to lend support to Ukil Abdus Sattar Bhuiyan, the candidate who had broken away from BNP. Rival contenders were distanced from the election fray and the ruling quarters made all sort of 'arrangements' on the day of the election.

Finally Ukil Sattar contended against only weak contestants and won. But the least votes were cast in this seat compared to the others. It was more or less a voterless election. Only 16.10 per cent votes were cast here. The disinterest of the Brahmanbaria people in the election was an expression of their lack of confidence in the election and in those at the helm. Certain election observers have said that voters believe that only the candidates backed by the ruling party will be made to win. That is also one of the reasons of disinterest in voting.

Polling officers wait for voters at the Annada High School centre in Sarail, Brahmanbaria-2
File Photo

And speculations abound about the very narrow margin between winning and losing in the Bogura-4 seat. Hero Alam lost by a mere 834 vote in this seat comprising two upazilas -- Kahalu and Nandigram. AKM Rezaul Karim, candidate of Awami League's ally Jashod, won this seat. Hero Alam secured 19,524 votes. There has been a flurry of discussion on how he, even as an independent candidate, won so many votes. A large number of the people who cast their votes, or managed to cast their votes, chose Hero Alam, a candidate nowhere near the centre of power. This was a manifestation of their lack of confidence in the election system and in the ruling coterie.

But it looks like Awami League took no risks in the Bogura -6 seat, which is the city constituency. The party's 'rebel' candidate in that seat alleged that the ruling party candidate had taken control of most of the centres by the afternoon on the day of the election. The Awami League candidate won there. But they had resorted to their old tactics of taking over the centres. So the question arises here as to whether the ruling party had a lack of confidence in itself.

Crisis of confidence on an upward curve

There are all sorts of questions and complaints about the one-sided election of 5 January 2014 and the 30 December 2018 general election. There are questions also about the various by-elections and local government elections held during the one and a half decades that Awami League has been in power. It is no new topic of discussion that the failure to be able to cast their votes has created a sense of anger and mistrust among a large section of the people in the country.

BNP leaders feel that the new message delivered by the ruling party is that if the opposition does not join in the coming national election, their strategy will be to lure in anyone breaking away from opposition and nominate them

The national election is scheduled to be held in about a year or so. BNP and various other parties have already started a simultaneous movement demanding the election to be held under a non-partisan government.

At this juncture, all eyes were on the Awami League government and the election commission during the by-elections to six seats. From the picture of the by-election, it seems that the ruling quarters have not taken anything into consideration. Quite to the contrary, BNP leaders feel that the new message delivered by the ruling party is that if the opposition does not join in the coming national election, their strategy will be to lure in anyone breaking away from opposition and nominate them.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday, said that the recent by-election once again proved their contention that free, fair and neutral elections were not possible under the Awami League government with the present election commission. He felt that the manner in which the by-elections in the six seats were held, even without BNP's participation, will simply exacerbate people's crisis of confidence in the election.

However, Awami League refuses to take any of these allegations into cognizance. The party's joint general secretary, Mahbubul Alam Hanif, speaking to Prothom Alo, said they feel that people's confidence in the election has increased through this by-election. He said that as one party did not take party in the by-polls, the contest was not stiff. That is why the voters were less enthusiastic.

Many persons were eager to observe what model the government would follow in these by-elections to the six seats. But certain election experts speculate that this model may be used in the next national election.

Election observer Munira Khan feels that if the use of muscle and irregularities could not be prevented in by-elections to just a few seats, what will happen during the general election? The government and the election commission should take these matters into consideration.

* This analysis appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir