Election and controversy are synonymous in Bangladesh. Be it an election at the local level or at the national level, allegation of rigging, in one form of other does surface in most cases.
The national democratic elections, the bitterly fought ones between two major political parties -- the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist party -- since 1991 could hardly escape the allegation of rigging. The vanquished while raising allegations of rigging used a number of adjectives. The widely used ones included 'massive', 'subtle'; and 'digital'. Possibly, there would be few more in the next elections.
If defeated, the political parties soon after the declaration of election results come out with allegations of vote fraud. Even such allegations are made halfway through the announcement of election results. There were times when musclemen deployed by the political parties used to hijack ballot boxes or forcibly entered the polling centers and stuffed the same with ballot papers in connivance with the ruling party or local administration.
The Awami League had launched mass movement alleging massive vote rigging in Magura-2 bye-election during the rule of the BNP in 1994 and pressed for making constitutional provision for a caretaker government having the primary responsibility of holding general elections within 90 days from the date of its installation in power. The BNP government in 1996 incorporated the provision into the constitution. Yet the allegation of vote fraud has been continuing.
However, such allegation is nothing unique in the case of Bangladesh. Most developing countries are quite familiar with this. Even the allegation of vote fraud did surface during the second-term election of immediate past US President George W Bush.
Generally, unpopular autocrats in developing countries do resort to polls rigging in a bid to hanging on to power. It has been happening in the continents of Asia, Africa and South America. At times, such riggings lead to violence and serious political instability.
In reality, political culture and independence of the Election Commission (EC) matter most in ensuring clean elections. Unfortunately, political parties in Bangladesh are still far away from pursuing the healthy democratic culture marked by tolerance and respect for opposing views. They do very often talk about democracy but are found to be not respectful of basic democratic values.
In such a political environment, one cannot expect the EC to function independently. Though the country's Constitution gives the EC adequate authority to function independently, most people have a strong feeling that its activities are someway or other influenced by outside forces, political or otherwise. So, elections held under four caretaker governments since 1991 provoked doubts, justifiably or otherwise. The moot issue is no election held even under caretaker administrations got clean chit.
To avoid any large-scale allegation of vote fraud, the government in the middle-part of the last decade had taken up a project to provide the voters with identity cards. But the project was abandoned after spending a large amount of money.
The last military-backed caretaker government considered the voters' identity card in a broader perspective and decided to give the citizens the national identity cards. With utmost efficiency, the members of the armed forces with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) prepared the national identity cards in a record time. The voters were initially told that they would be required to show their national identity cards at the time of voting in elections held in December 2008. But, for mysterious reasons, some days before the polling, the EC announced that production of national ID cards would be necessary at the time of voting.
Of late, the issue of electronic voting (E-voting) has surfaced. The EC successfully carried out a test run of the modern system of voting in the polling centers of a selected ward during the recently held Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) polls.
The voters found the system of E-voting easy and hassle-free. The system also provides the polling officials the opportunity to give election results within a very short time since the voting is recorded electronically. However, E-voting is not entirely flawless. The voting in Florida, USA, during the second-term election of George W Bush is a case in point. However, the system of E-voting is far better than the manual system of voting now being practiced in Bangladesh. Nearly 60 countries, including neighbouring India, have been using the system that has several versions.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown her interest in introducing the system of E-voting in the next general election. Hopefully, the EC on the basis of its experience gathered from the test-run of the system in CCC polls would start making all the necessary preparation to acquire the required number of E-voting machines and educate the polling officials and the voters as well about the system. In addition, the EC should make the production of ID cards by the voters mandatory in future local as well as national level elections. The production of national ID cards has been made mandatory in many areas. One cannot even open a bank account without the same. Then why should it not be used in polls purposes?
- Swedish riots spread beyond capital, ease in Stockholm (113)
- An effective methodology of employing 21st century skills (102)
- SME banking to spur financial inclusion drive (101)
- Azizur Rahman: A legendary writer (98)
- news digest (95)
- 28 dead in Lebanon Sunni-Alawite clashes (91)
- US move to scrap GSP unfair, discriminatory, says Muhith (91)
- UK fighters escort Pakistani plane to airport, two arrested (90)
- Xpress Money vows to 'operate from anywhere to everywhere' (90)
- Africa celebrates progress and 50 years of 'unity' (88)
- 12 dead as Philippine troops clash with militants (87)
- 18-party daylong hartal today (84)