ISSN 2330-717X

Amid Irregularities Bangladesh In Grip Of Municipal Election Fever – OpEd


Bangladesh is reeling under the strains of political rivalries between its two top leaders: PM Sheikh Hasina and Opposition leader and former PM Khaleda Zia – both are close relatives of former rulers.

As Bangladesh is heading for the December 30 municipal elections, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) looks more confident than the ruling Awami League (AL) party of PM Sheikh Hasina.

The Awami League party is not at all happy that the main opposition party BNP has decided to contest the municipal elections, making the chances difficult for the ruling party to post a big show at the local government.

The Hasina government had expected the opposition to boycott the local poll, citing malpractices by the government as it had done earlier by ignoring the impact of boycotting the national poll.

Having learned a vital lesson by boycotting the parliamentary poll that led to the thumping victory for the ruling party with many of its candidates having returned to parliament unopposed, now the BNP has decided to fight local elections and prepare the party for the next parliamentary poll.

The municipal elections, as usual, are flooded with irregularities. The national Election Commission refuses to address the allegations of the incidents of violation of the election code of conduct by ministers and MPs in different country, but BNP also refuses to boycott the polls citing the lack of any effective drive to make the election truly fair. Responsible officials are also frequently violating election rules, leading to pre-election violence and hampering the polls atmosphere.

The campaign situation is so bad that the Election Commission had to expose its helplessness by seeking Prime Minister Hasina’s intervention. About EC’s inactions, former Election Commissioner Sohul Hossain told the media that the EC cannot avoid its responsibility by only asking the returning officers to take actions over the code breaching. He said both the Commission and returning officers need to act simultaneously against code violation. “Here the overall responsibility goes to the Election Commission. The Commission, by the time, should have said it would take care of everything,” he added.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party has alleged that their party candidates and their supporters are being attacked, tortured and arrested in different municipalities. He criticized the EC for not taking any action against those violating the election code of conduct and carrying out attacks on their opponents despite repeated complaints lodged by the party. BNP says a fair election is still possible if the Commission sincerely and neutrally plays its role braving the fear and obstructions. The Election Commission doesn’t seem to be as much active as it was supposed to be in arranging a fair election.” BNP has also expressed its surprise over the EC’s ‘helplessness’ by seeking the Prime Minister’s intervention to prevent the election code of conduct violation by the ruling party men. “The Election Commission has tremendous power. A fair election is possible if the Commission properly exercises its power,” said BNP standing committee member Gayeshwar Chandra Roy.

As the Commission did not take effective action and monitoring measures at the initial stage, the violation of election code has been on the rise alarmingly. Former caretaker government adviser M Hafizuddin Khan also said the EC wants to shirk its responsibility by shifting the duty to returning officers. Terming the present Commission ‘weak’, he said it is not taking effective steps when it comes to the violation of the election code conduct.

Earlier on Sunday, Election Commissioner Md Shahnewaz sought the Prime Minister’s intervention in checking the violation of the election code of the conduct by ministers and MPs. Such helplessness of the EC is surprising,” he added. Roy had come up with the remarks while talking to reporters after taking part in electioneering in favour of Bandarban municipality BNP mayoral candidate Jabed Reza. He alleged that the Commission has failed to protect the dignity and independence of the statutory body. Roy said their party has strong doubt about fair elections to the 235 municipalities on December 30. “Though we knew the election won’t be fair, we’ve participated in it to show the country’s people once again that it’s how much logical to go to polls under the current regime.

Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League, maybe as a gimmick to show that the government is not promoting irregularities, has also lodged objection to the Election Commission against 10 out of 30 election monitoring organisations ahead of the municipal polls. The ruling party raised the objection in a letter to the EC Secretariat on Wednesday, said Director of the EC Secretariat SM Asaduzzaman. The 10 organisations include Manobadhikar Somonnoy Parishad, Democracy Watch, Manobik Sahajjo Sangstha, Manobadhikar O Samaj Unnayan Sangstha, Light House, Odhikar, Right Jessore, Jagorani Chakra and National Youth Forum. A ruling party delegation, led by its joint general secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif, also met the Chief Election Commissioner on Thursday to discuss the issue.

Claiming that her party will get 80 percent votes if there is no manipulation and rigging in the December 30 municipal polls, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia demanded deployment of Army in the election. “I can predict, BNP will get 80 percent votes if the election is held fairly. But as a worthless and spineless person [CEC] is there in the Election Commission and you cannot expect proper polling from him,” she said. Speaking at a discussion at the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh in Dhaka, Khaleda Zia said: “Deployment of Army is a must to hold credible municipal polls. We can expect a fair election to some extent if the Army is deployed. She, however, maintained that Sheikh Hasina will not agree to deploy army as she does not want the force to be there in the field. In her around 51-minute speech, the former prime minister also came down hard on the EC for not taking action against the ruling party men for regularly violating the election code of conduct. “Even the Prime Minster [Sheikh Hasina] herself violated the election code of conduct and a complaint was lodged with the Election Commission, but it remained quiet about it.”

The BNP chief said people will cast their votes in favor of the sheaf of paddy if they get the opportunity to go to polling stations freely. Khaleda urged the freedom fighters to go to the polling stations braving any obstacle and cast their votes for BNP candidates to restore democracy in the country.

Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad has said a large number of executive and judicial magistrates is being deployed to control the law and order situation during the Dec 30 polls to 234 municipalities across Bangladesh. “In some places, there have been clashes and even candidates have been injured. But in many other places, a cordial atmosphere has prevailed and campaigning has taken place without any trouble,” he said in a briefing at the EC office in Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. “Let the trouble-makers follow the example set by those campaigning in a festive atmosphere,” he appealed. “I am confident the atmosphere will get better a day before the polls. Deployment of many executive and judicial magistrates will help,” Ahmad said. “From Monday, the deployment of law enforcing agencies will start.”

When asked about the BNP’s allegations about widespread violation of the electoral code of conduct by the ruling Awami League, the CEC said: “We are closely monitoring the situation and taking firm action against OCs, returning officers and officials found guilty of dereliction of duty.” He said executive magistrates with the power to impose fines for violation of the election code have helped improve the situation considerably. “I can say with certainty that the situation has improved as a result of the measures we have taken,” he claimed. He advised citizens to take recourse to legal action if they came across electoral malpractices. Kazi Ahmad said the BNP complained against certain organizations. “Both the BNP and the Awami League have complained against some observers. We are examining the complaints and will decide on them soon,” CEC said, the EC has registered the independent monitoring groups, he said.

A recent survey on upcoming municipal polls by ruling Awami League indicated the party’s massive victory but the BNP objected to the survey, saying the survey on upcoming municipal polls was a ‘survey of debacle’. The survey said that

Awami League mayor candidates would win in 201 municipalities.

The ruling party was finding out all kinds of tactics so that BNP did not contest in poll but this time they made mistake in the strategy, she said adding that they did not think BNP this time would come to election. Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia made the remarks while inaugurating biennial council and election-2015 of a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalist at auditorium of Supreme Court Bar Association in Supreme Court. This is for the first time BFUJ has to organise its council session outside the National Press Club. BNP claimed that the BNP would win bagging 80 per cent vote in the election if the election is held in free, fair and neutral manner . ‘Whatever survey is conducted is false and that would yield nothing,’ she said claiming that she knows about the result of the true survey and those indicate ruling party is destined to defeat. She said the ruling party resorted to such tactic to legalize their corruption.

Khaleda claimed that the BNP would win bagging 80 percent of the vote in the election if the election is held in free, fair and neutral manner. She said it has been heard that journalists would not be allowed to enter to polling centers in December 30 local polls. She said if it is true then it is clear that their aim is to rig the poll. She said the journalists must stay inside the polling centers and urged them to project the real picture inside the polling centers. She said it would be proved for the third time that fair election did not take place under Awami League government and people did not accept ‘Hasina style’ and ‘Rakib style’ elections. She told the function to prove again that they are failed to hold fair election. Khaleda urged all voters to go to polling centers and cast their votes saying win of sheaf of paddy is certain. She said people ensured victory sheaf of paddy again and again when the party contested in the elections.

Through contesting the poll the BNP has proved that it is an election-oriented party, wants to contest in the election and believe in free, fair and inclusive election. It does not believe in one-party election through stuffing ballot boxes to win own candidates, she added. The former prime minister said earlier journalists had proved that fair election is not possible under Hasina and Rakib. She said other commissioners in the commission are more sycophants of the government.

On December 30, the voting will take place from 8am to 4pm. The campaigning ends at midnight on Monday (today).
Although local elections are essentially different from national poll, the current municipal poll outcomes are likely to shape – even define- the future politics of Bangladesh. If the BNP makes inroads in local settings, even if it does not win maximum number of seats and municipalities, the ruling AL would feel threatened to lose the next national poll. However, the Hasina government is making strenuous efforts to deny the opposition party that comfort zone.

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