MNA Editorial Desk: It is not very far that we are going to participate and observe the 11th national election scheduled to be held at the later part of this year. All the city corporation elections which were scheduled to be held prior to the national election are over. The results of these local government elections were very important as those were considered to be the dress rehearsal of the general election though conducted in a much less significant parameter. In the last few City Corporation elections country’s largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party also participated and made the polls competitive. But there are questions on the overall environment of the election which was a bit exaggerated by the opposition party. The role of the Election Commission was not effective as they could not answer the raised questions properly which they could have. Rather they seemed skeptical. Keeping the upcoming national election, the learning from these local government elections can be vital and we must align with those findings.
In most of the cases, there was no or very limited violence at the election areas and that was one appreciable factor of these elections. There was no significant clash between the supporters of the ruling party candidate and that of the opposition party despite the elections conducted under the party banners. Almost no clash was evident with the law enforcers also. But fake votes came out as a dangerous phenomenon in these local government elections as it was evident and came into the coverage of all media in almost all the cases. Few even claimed that fake votes altered the results of the elections in most instances and was the most important factor behind the results. The polling agents of BNP were missing from most of the polling centers which was very mysterious in few cases and came out as a major concern.
BNP, throughout the time of these elections claimed that the elections were not fair. As soon as the poll started on the Election Day, they used to issue statements from their office on how their activists are being tortured and criticized the role of the government, the EC and the law enforcers. It seemed like they are more concerned about identifying the election as an unfair one rather than taking the result in their favor. Hence, they actually failed to take the results of these elections in their favor except the election of Sylhet City Corporation. In Sylhet, their candidate Arifur Rahman’s popularity due to his good works and contribution behind transforming Sylhet city worked as a great factor in outrunning the ruling party’s candidate. It was an example of people’s recognition of good works by a City Mayor. In spite of that, all BNP candidates including that of Sylhet objected on the grounds of fake voting as well as of attack on their supporters and activists especially the polling agents. Despite all these incidents, BNP did not walk out of any of these polls and that is a very good sign as it reflects their willingness to participate in the national polls also.
The opposition continuously raised few issues and concerns. One of the major concerns was throwing out their polling agents from the polling centers. But there is a rule to submit the list of polling agents to the election commission and BNP repeatedly failed to do so. They claimed that they did not do so in fear of the arrest of their polling agents prior to the elections. But in this process, it became confusing if BNP even could place polling agents in all the polling centers which reflects their political bankruptcy as a political party’s main strength is its field level activists and their commitment to the party which BNP seems to have lost during the last decade. Moreover, due to not submitting the list of the polling agents, BNP could not actually claim if any of their polling agents was arrested or thrown out of the polling centers or tortured in any instances. Hence, these incidents and claims could not sustain in front of the people and the media. Despite a good amount of public support, BNP in recent years failed in most of their missions unfortunately due to their political immaturity. Absence of their top leaders like Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, imprisoned for last few months and senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman, living in exile in London is also hurting BNP to control its leadership especially at the field levels which was pretty evident in these local government elections.
The opposition party keeps demanding for deployment of army repeatedly as they anticipated the other law enforcement agencies like; police, RAB and BGB to work in favor of the ruling party candidates. But the election environment did not justify their demands as mostly everything was calm. The law enforcement agencies were active on all polling areas and no vigilant violence was there which could have required army to solicit. It is a true fact that, the ruling party due to its strong leadership and larger number of activists along with the support of the administration was in a position of control but that could have been the case of BNP if they were in power. BNP tried to achieve something from these elections but could not gain any significant political advantage as they struggled throughout these elections giving people an idea of their decreasing influence over their activists as well as the general people.
The ruling party Awami League on the other hand achieved very good results in the polls but also achieved some criticism. Due to a great number of fake votes all in favor of the ruling party candidates, feelings of unfair measures spread among the people. In this era of social media and online journalism, a little discrepancy in an election comes out with a great hype. These media were flooded with repeated coverage of these fake votes. In most cases, it was not required for Awami League to take help of fake votes to win the elections but they could not control the hyped activities of their activists who could not allow themselves to practice fairness. But it served the opposition’s point of impossibility of fair election with the current government in power. This idea will also strengthen BNP’s claims of unfair election commission and the external observers will get a negative vibe on the transparency of the electoral process.
Before the upcoming national election, the opposition parties will be active on the field with the demand of neutral election period government, a form of the previously known caretaker government as the trust between Awami League and BNP is almost missing. There is no respect or tolerance of each other in both these parties and it will be hard to find any proper solution. BNP did not participate in the last election on the same ground despite the effort of many external parties to bring them in election and that allowed Awami League to secure an easy win. Later BNP could not organize any strong protest which they thought they could to pull down the government. This was due to the non-compromising leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who controlled the situation strongly through different adverse scenario. That decision of BNP came out as the worst decision of its political history as they were left out of the parliament and actually became lame constitutionally. It seems BNP realized that mistake as they participated in all the local government elections though could not achieve much.
The election commission is mainly responsible to assure all the parties of a fair election environment. But like many previous election commissions, this one also seems to act timid and tries to avoid its responsibilities which is very unfortunate. Without strong management from the election commission, it will not be possible to arrange an election with the participation of all parties. They need to be more proactive and should face the people directly. They must act as the ultimate voice regarding the next national election. If they can play a strong role, the 11th national election will be an acceptable election to all related stakeholders.
It was strongly evident from these local government elections that, if the parties nominate good candidates who are acceptable to the people, then the environment stays calm and people can vote freely. PM Sheikh Hasina, who has initiated so many development works in Bangladesh approaching the goals set in Vision 2021 and 2041, should now focus on this area and must nominate good candidates to clinch clear victory in the upcoming national election. On the other hand, BNP should also do the same as only good candidates of people’s choice can bring out a positive result for them in that contest. If good candidates are in poll, the base of democracy in Bangladesh will move towards sustainability much faster.
We as people can only hope that, a fair and acceptable election will be held at the end of this year in which all the parties will participate with good candidates. We will expect that development of our country does not stop at any cost as that is the topmost priority of every citizens of Bangladesh. And the outcome of the next election will be definitely a decision maker if we want to continue with our forward march as a nation as we all eye on that now.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC).