Leaving nothing to chance
News has come of 17 persons being killed in election violence so far in 12 districts of the country. These deaths cannot be brushed aside as isolated incidents. The political identity of the victims is not important. They may be of the ruling party or of the political opposition. They were killed in clashes, one under a stampede. That is the important fact. Such deaths are unacceptable. These are in no way random incidents.
According to the news coming down from up north, the home of both my paternal and maternal grandparents, it is apparent that the people there are gripped by fear. They are anxious about what will happen now that the election is over. Most of the people there did not go to vote. The violence and deaths that occurred all over the country were totally unwarranted.
So far two election commissioners have stated that when they cast their votes in two centres of the capital respectively, they found no polling agents of the opposition parties there. If there were no polling agents of the opposition candidates in Dhaka’s centres, one can only imagine the situation outside of Dhaka. The opposition parties say their agents were not allowed to enter the centres. These allegations must certainly be taken into cognizance.
All information has not reached us as yet. The actual picture of the voting hasn’t come across through the electronic media. Previously we would get an immediate picture of the election day though television and get a rough idea of how things had turned out.
We do not know why the television coverage hasn’t given us the full picture of the voting situation. Given the various decisions of the election commission, perhaps it was not easy to take the TV cameras into the voting centres. Perhaps they were not allowed to enter.
Late in the night before the election, clashes broke out. Ballot boxes were snatched away in certain places. A large number of my relations live in the northern region. I got news from them and others. They said that in the night they heard certain things had taken place. When they went to vote the next day, many of them had to stamp the ballot papers in the presence of the ruling party persons. Now that the election is over, it is difficult to say what will happen in those areas. The people there are scared, anxious.
If after 47 years of independence the country has to see such incidents during the election, then we cannot say that the country is proceeding down a democratic path. It is difficult to say what lies ahead. The present government has brought about a lot of development. Had the election been held in a peaceful environment, perhaps the people would have voted for them. But the overenthusiastic candidates wanted to leave nothing to chance. That is why perhaps the election has become questionable. However, we still do not have the full picture.
Another factor noticed during this election is that there were long queues of voters outside many polling centres that remained virtually empty. This is also unwarranted. During the 2008 elections we had imposed section 144 outside of the polling stations, now allowing any gatherings to linger around. Only the voters were to come to the polling centres. They were to enter, cast their vote and leave.
On election morning this time, voters were not allowed to enter a voting centre in Keraniganj, on the outskirts of Dhaka. Hundreds of voters were waiting in line. It is not understandable why they were obstructed and what the objective was of those who created such a situation. Such incidents simply serve to heighten people’s doubts and suspicions.
* M Sakhawat Hossain is former election commissioner. The views given here are the writer’s own. This piece appeared in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir