DUCSU polls shouldn’t be another 30 December election
Uncertainty had loomed large over the Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) elections for long. The doubts persisted even after the schedule for the elections were announced. But the atmosphere at Dhaka University on Wednesday and Thursday says that the campus has turned festive over the polls. Different student organisations and independent candidates were campaigning in full swing. No student body, except the ruling party’s student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League, could field a full panel in the hall unions. But, there are plenty of panels in DUCSU.
There are also independent candidates who are contesting without aligning themselves with any panel. As many as 21 are contesting for the vice president (VP) post and 14 for general secretary (GS) which is the highest number in the history of DUCSU.
Today is 9 March. Elections to DUCSU and the hall unions are to be held on 11 March. The enthusiasm is high among the candidates and voters as the DUCSU elections are being held after 28 years. One can see big banners with the photographs of candidates and different pledges to voters hanging all around the university area.
The Arts Building, Curzon Hall, Business faculty, TSC—all the important areas of the campus are replete with banners and posters. Candidates and their supporters are approaching the voters, pledging to make the university friendly and safe once they are elected.
The voters are having a good time, with the candidates all out to please them. But the situation will invariably change after the polls. The elected student leaders will transform into kings.
Although, the residential halls are adorned with banners, 90 per cent of those banners are of BCL candidates. The opposition camp complained that the ruling party student wing has breached electoral code of conduct. On the other hand, BCL alleged that the opposition parties are using outsiders in their campaign. So far, no untoward incident has happened centering the elections. The fact that other student organisations and independent candidates are even allowed to campaign is a beacon of hope, given the adversities opposition candidates and voters faced while campaigning for the eleventh parliamentary elections.
A DU teacher said that the campus had seen such an abnormal atmosphere over the last 10 years that normalcy now seems unusual. The next 48 hours is crucial. Chhatra Dal (student wing of Bangladesh Nationalist Party) has said, ‘We were driven out of campus for 10 years, and now reentered by the pity of Chhatra League.’ This culture of this pity and intimidation should be changed.
Campaigning is prohibited in academic buildings. But several organisations were carrying out campaigns using loud speakers around the Arts Building during classes. A chairman of a department in the Arts Faculty was frustrated, ‘Those who will lead the students should be respectful to the law.’
Currently, there are 18 residential halls in the university, 13 for male and 5 for female students. No student bodies except BCL could field full panels in the residential halls. According to Prothom Alo, 24 per cent candidates (56 posts) are going to win uncontested in hall unions. DU authorities maintained the number would be 41. Whatever be the number, the fact that one fourth candidates are going to win the election without competition is not normal.
Opposition student organisations alleged that the residential halls are fully controlled by BCL and other parties did not get the chance even to stay there. BCL forced general students to work for them by creating the culture of ‘Gano Room’ (jam-packed rooms in residential halls where fresher students can stay only if they participate in programmes of ruling party). Different student bodies pledged to stop this culture. Gano Room culture should end. The condition in female halls is a bit better.
Among the competing student bodies, Chhatra Dal is in a weak state. They fielded VP candidate in only one female hall and failed to field any in Jagannath Hall. Progressive student bodies also failed to field full panels in most of the hall unions. So, the results of hall union are predictable. But more than one journalist working with DUCSU election from the beginning thinks that the result of DUCSU could be different.
They think, there would be competition between BCL and the panel of quota reform activists. Chhatra Dal, progressive student bodies and Swadhikar Satantra Panel (independent panel) could also win some posts. The journalists think that female students’ vote would be important in DUCSU. In this respect, quota reformists are in a bit favorable situation as they supported female students during the student movement. Half of the 16 thousand female students of DU reside in residential halls. On the other hand, majority of male students live outside the campus.
There are some common pledges and demands of different student organisations and independent candidates. Those common points are, introducing health insurance for students, automation in academic activities, improving food standards and transport facilities, building new residential halls and renovating existing ones. BCL pledged that they would ensure peaceful environment in campus like they did in last 10 years. The critics, however, refuted the claim saying the campus was peaceful only for ruling party student activists in last decade.
Chhatra Dal urged the students to bring back democracy. Progressive student alliance’s slogan is, ‘Look, there are two sides, one of light and other of darkness. Stand, and ask yourself, which one you choose.’ Swadhikar Satantra Panel’s (independent panel) slogan is, ‘we don’t want another election like 30-December. Students are not anyone’s servant.’ Quota reformists pressed for coexistence of students from different ideologies.
While discussing with some teachers in the teachers’ lounge of the Arts Building, one teacher said that the election would be a carbon copy of last general elections. I asked him if he meant that the voters would not be able to cast their votes in DUCSU too. He replied that the students would be able to vote but the ruling party has announced the schedule of the election only after they got confirmation that they will bag most of the seats. Another teacher maintained that the election would not be one-sided.
A teacher of Blue Panel (pro-ruling party teachers’ panel) thinks that the ruling party student wing would take the advantage of lack of unity among anti-government organisations. Even pro-left bodies have two different panels contesting in the election.
The students of DU have one wish in common– they want a fair election no matter which candidate or organisation wins. Nobody wants a 30-December-style election. All the organisations except BCL urged the authorities to extend the voting time. They think voting of huge number of students is impossible in the timeframe of only 6 hours (between 8:00am-2:00pm). DU authorities are yet to pay heed to this demand. They are rather thinking of some alternative. Will their thinking go in line with free and fair elections?
* Sohrab Hassan is of Prothom Alo and can be contacted at sohrabhassan55@gmail,com. This piece appeared in Bangla in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here in English by Galib Ashraf