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Big question mark over quality of upazila polls

Sporadic violence, assault and harassment of election officials, forcible occupation of polling centres, vote rigging, snatching of ballot boxes and papers, allegedly by exponents of the ruling Awami League, appear to have been the dominant theme of the January 22 upazila elections, according to reports in the national media, so much so that the Election Commission suspended elections to four upazilas and voting in some 50 polling centres. One cabinet member was reported by the commission to have attempted to influence the results and impede voting in an upazila in Sirajganj while one AL lawmaker allegedly visited three polling centres at Teknaf and assaulted the presiding and assistant presiding officers there; elections to both upazilas were eventually suspended. The commission is also reported to have asked the judicial magistrates to initiate legal proceedings against the minister and the lawmaker in question.

In such circumstances, when the local government, rural development and cooperatives minister, Syed Ashraful Islam, who is also the official spokesperson of the Awami League, claims that the elections were largely peaceful and commends the commission and the law enforcement agencies on a job ‘well done’, it sounds rather preposterous. It is all the more so, especially when the chief election commissioner himself expresses, in public, his displeasure with the quality of the elections and the ‘unwarranted pressure’ brought to bear by the ruling party leaders, especially a cabinet member and a lawmaker. He also made no attempt to hide his disappointment that the upazila elections were not as fair and free as he had expected these elections to be. Overall, there seems to be a big question mark over the quality of the upazila elections.

In the December 29 elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad, the electorate returned resounding verdict in favour of the Awami League. The general expectations were the party would at least try to break away from the decadent political practices of the past. However, the blatant attempts by many of its leaders, activists and followers to interfere with the electoral process and influence the upazila elections results could be indicative of the fact that such expectations were premature. The ‘grab-all’ attitude appears to be very much there in the party’s rank and file, which is disappointing to say the least. Crucially still, the ruling party’s attempt at influencing the elections results tend to suggest that it does not have faith in the people’s ability to make the right choice. The upazila elections were a test for the ruling party to prove its commitment to strengthening democratic institutions and also its faith in the people. The undesirable incidents on the election day could lead one to conclude that the party has failed the test on both counts.

The commission certainly deserves praise for taking into account the ‘unwarranted pressure’ applied by ruling party leaders to influence the upazila elections results and also for initiating a move to bring the transgressors to book. The ruling party needs to complement the commission’s effort and, on its own volition, institute an inquiry, identify those leaders and activists who tried to impede the electoral process and influence the results, and discipline them without any exception.

Source: New Age

Added on - January 24, 2009 | Filed under Politics