Voter-less election elects parliament

Faisal Rahim

The country witnessed a bloody, unprecedented election held by the ruling Awami League sidetracking the opposition parties. It was exclusively an AL election ended over selection of MPs making sure the ruling party’s return to power again.

On Jan 5 the government held the election putting BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia under virtual house arrest and foiling ‘March for Democracy’ which Begun Zia had called for December 29. This time the government had in fact imposed a five day long blockade on the capital preventing peoples’ arrival from the district by suspending roads, rail and riverine transport services and setting up check-posts at every city entry point to filter the opposition workers from entering the city. It has also arrested most of senior BNP leaders, and those still at large kept out of public sight.
Meanwhile, in the election, 153 MPs were elected uncontested which many constitutional specialists described as ‘no election’. They said the constitution says MPs should be elected by people through direct vote. But this uncontested selection is how far compatible to the constitutional obligations is a big question.
Moreover, elections to remaining 147 seats on January 5 with namesake rival candidates is similarly fraught with breach of constitutional requirement for a free and competitive election participated by political parties in a credible way. We have an election under seat sharing arrangements and none can claim it to be an acceptable election, the critics say.
Now the game is over in which Awami League has pocketed 231 sets, Jatiya Party ® -33 Jatiya Party (M)-1 Workers Party 3, JSD-2, Tariquat Federation-2 and newly launched BNF 1. Meanwhile Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad is staying at Combined Military Hospital in a friendly confinement and playing golf. It remains a mystery while his wife Raushan Ershad has become the new party leader and now becoming the leader of the Opposition.

SH/Hasina’s arrogance
The January 5 election was held amid nationwide blockades and shutdowns, deaths of over hundred people in the streets and destruction of public and private properties across the country. The opposition demanded that the government should free, fair and credible election under a caretaker government. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she wouldn’t move a hair length from her election plan.
In fact, many people now openly blame India’s Congress-led UPA government for the one-sided election in Bangladesh and the tragedy that has fallen upon the nation. The Indian government even facing strong criticism on the issue from major Indian Opposition BJP which is tipped to win the next May Parliamentary election in India. Besides, major Indian newspapers are also accusing Delhi for its one-sided policy towards Bangladesh.
The growing Indian interest in Bangladesh has been reflected in Delhi’s move to set up a new Bangladesh Division in the Foreign Ministry after the election; which will look after Myanmar issues along side Bangladesh. Delhi’s desire and actions to dominate the local politics has sparked anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh. Major Indian newspapers have urged Delhi to exercise far sighted policies before it becomes too late.
A report in a magazine of the Indian Institute of Defense Studies, which reflects the official opinion, said Delhi has taken the painstaking decision to support Sheikh Hasina and Awami League after failing to convince BNP chairperson to toe an Indian line. While it does not explain, it does indicate Delhi’s pressure, among some other things, to abandon Jamaat-e-Islami which India wants to destroy for religion-based political parties in Bangladesh having strong anti-Indian sentiment. Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh had raised the same issue with HM Ershad during her recent visit to Dhaka. The report pointed out that Delhi had arranged the visit of Indian President Pronab Mukherjee early last year and Sujatha Singh recently before the election when street agitations in Dhaka were fierce to pass the message of Indian support to the Awami League government. Indian High Commissioner’s comment that India enjoys historic relations with Awami League, though it always deals with the government confirms the report.

SH/Rigging galore
Meanwhile the massive rigging in the election has made the polls global headlines again. Reports said at least 64 polling centers across the country had seen zero turn out of voters. Polling officials waited the entire day but nobody turned out to cast a vote. At other places voters’ presence were from a dozen to several dozens. Some candidates hired around 100 workers who went into polling centers, cast their votes and then return to the end of the queue to vote again. This is what they did the entire day with support from police and polling officials who were either party loyalists or under threats.
Fair Election Monitoring Alliance (FEMA) functionaries said following the polls that they believe around 10 percent votes were cast throughout the country based on their visits to many polling centers. Director of the National Human Rights Commission is a statement also claimed it can’t be more than 13 percent. But the Election Commission initially claimed it at over 39 percent and corrected the figure to over 40 percent Tuesday.
Pointing to massive rigging, a news report said, at a polling centre at Noyagaon under
Noorpur Union in Habigonj district, all 2,600 votes was cast. At Habigonj Staff Quarter polling center, polling officer Bithirani Sen was found sealing the ballot papers when the photographer of a national daily visited the center. He came under attack of the ruling party cadres but escape unhurt.
Reports said at Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Peergonj constituency over 70 percent
votes were cast. It was around 3 percent at 1.00 PM but it shot up to 70 percent at 4.00 pm. The report quoting an election officer at the centre said Dhulgari High School centre had 2,300 votes and only 85 votes were cast at around 1 PM. But some local party workers then entered the center and sealed the ballot papers to raise it to 77 percent level by 4 Pm.
On the other hand, Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad lost the polls with 7,820 votes to his Awami League rival Motahar Hossein who bagged 1,07,276 votes at Lalmonirhat -1 constituency although he won at a different constituency.
Report said at Uttara where former minister Shahera Khatoon contested, voters were almost absent throughout the day. At around 3 PM the presiding officer called some outside people into the polling centre and they filled the boxes. It was replicated at other centres to get her elected with a huge margin. Identical reports came many other places where important candidates were contesting.

SH/The EC’s role
Reports about massive rigging and false votes are abundant and the EC’s percentage of the actual voters’ turnout has become controversial in the situation. Chief Election Commissioner Rokibuddin Ahmed however said the low turn out was largely because of bad weather, in addition to opposition’s boycott of the polls. The visit of several ruling party leaders like HT Imam, Hasanul Haque Inu and Dr Abdur Razzak to the Election Commission on the election night and their meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner has raised many questions. Their visit has only provided credence to a growing suspicion that they had acted with EC officials to show a bigger turn out figure.
Meanwhile, in post election violence though the fights and killing of rivals within Awami Lerague camp went largely ignored while attacks on the Hindu villages in several districts were widely reported in the media.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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