For the first time in 10 years, voters will be able to pick the candidate of their choice
There are festivities in the air, and worries too.
Voters in this country have long been longing for an inclusive general election where they can choose and pick candidates of their choice. The last time they had a chance to do so was back in 2008.
Credit goes to all registered political parties in this country that they succeeded in reaching a common ground where all major players could agree to participate in the December 30 parliamentary polls. So this inclusivity in the election in itself is a reason to rejoice, and a very welcome departure from the “one-sided” one the nation had to endure in 2014.
In the run up to this election, the phrase that has been uttered hundreds of times is “level playing field.” All along, BNP, the party that had skipped the 10th parliamentary polls, has been asking for a level playing field in the 11th version of the Jatiya Sangsad election.
The Election Commission assured it of that numerous times. But at no point have BNP and its allies under the Dr Kamal Hossain-led Jatiya Oikya Front felt that they have been provided with the level playing field that they asked for. They found many of their MP hopefuls and their support bases in the grassroots at the receiving end of poll violence, largely and allegedly orchestrated by a section of ruling party adherents.
Throughout this journey, since the November 8 announcement of polls schedule, the Oikya Front and its biggest component BNP left no stone unturned to make them heard by the Election Commission. They pleaded with the commission to make sure civil administration and police treat all parties and their candidates and activists equally and rise above “partisan behaviours.”
They pleaded for not “harassing” the opposition leaders and workers and stopping wholesale arrests of the opposition activists by implicating them in, what they claim, are false cases.
Not only have such appeals and requests largely gone to the EC’s deaf ears, but also, the EC and Oikya Front were at serious odds at times. Written complaints of serious election code violations, and of violent activities kept piling up, but hardly been taken care of. Voters witnessed with rapt attention how the opposition faced a hard time making the Election Commission understand that things were not shaping up in a proper way for the holding of a peaceful and fair election.
Amidst a continuing flurry of allegations against the Election Commission and the way it handled things in the run up to this election, and in the absence of a level playing field, the main opposition parties could hardly manage doing some campaign activities, which were no match for a full-throttled electioneering by the Awami League and its 14-party alliance partners. If pre-poll violence and alleged “non-action” from the parts of the Election Commission, police, and administration is something to go by, there are reasons to worry about the polling day environment.
A general sense of fear is there in the air about the possibilities of violence, intimidation, and rigging -- which could jeopardize the very efforts of holding a participatory election -- first time in many years under a party government.
Not to speak of general people, even the sitting prime minister, who has been at the helm of the affairs for 10 straight years, has expressed worry about “sabotage” being played out centring the election.
Against this backdrop, amidst the presence of fear factors none can deny, voters are the only force that can make a difference. If the voters come out on December 30 in their big numbers and express firm resolve that come what may they would exercise their voting rights, it will definitely act as the biggest deterrent to mischief.
Bangladesh now appears to be one of the few major democracies where the eligible voting population is in excess of 100 million. Although the number of registered voters is huge, there is a question of how many of them would turn up on the election day. In 2008, voter turnout (over 87%) was far higher than previous elections, but the next election in 2014 saw much lower voter turnout (less than 40%). Of course, the 2014 one was not an inclusive and participatory election.
If we take the last three “fully acceptable” national elections, the voter turnout has always been over 70%. It was 74% in 1996, 74.88% in 2001 and 87% in 2008. Credit goes to our democracy-loving people that they never shied away from exercising their voting rights whenever they have been given a fair chance.
This time around, it’s all the more crucial for a whole new generation of voters who have missed out on such a chance last time because of the “one-sided” nature of the 10th parliamentary election.
Since the 10th parliamentary election, a total of more than 12,100,000 new voters have been listed to cast their votes in the upcoming election.
Considering the number, the youth are going to play a crucial role in determining which party will sit in power.
But more importantly, they will be the new force of vigilance on election day.
Reaz Ahmed is Executive Editor, Dhaka Tribune.