THE direct involvement of the policemen on duty in snatching ballot boxes and filling them with looted ballot papers was seen on TV. Newspaper pictures showed election officers sealing ballot papers in favour of, obviously, an AL backed candidate. These scenes were incredible.
In some places, AL men snatched away ballot boxes, ballot papers and seals. Khadija Khatun, assistant polling officer of a polling centre at Sonatola, Bogra said that the election officers had been locked up in a room by stick-wielding ruling party men. The photograph came out in a newspaper. In some cases, polling materials were vandalised; and BNP-backed candidates, AL rebels and independent candidates pulled out of the race in seven upazilas. The number is significant. The CEC obviously failed to take adequate action. The local units of BNP called hartal in 8 upazilas in protest against vote rigging, violent conduct of AL supporters and the EC's apathy.
However, in spite of all these cases of violation and violence, the BNP emerged as the victor, winning chairmanship of 44 upazilas out of 97. The AL secured 34, Jamaat 13, Jatiya party 1 and others the rest. In the race for vice-chairmanship, BNP got 32, AL 24 and Jamaat a close 23. Even among the victorious women vice-chairman, 10 were from Jamaat. The worst performance was by the Jatiya party, which bagged only one chairmanship and one woman vice-chairmanship.
The AL did a little better in Barisal and Sylhet divisions, and BNP led in the others. Jamaat did well even in JP stronghold. In Golapganj upazila of Sylhet, which is an important upazila and is in the constituency of Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid (and also of this writer), a little known Jamaat candidate fighting against both AL and BNP won convincingly. He defeated the sitting AL chairman whose reputation was rather good. The third and the fourth positions went to two BNP rebel candidates and the fifth position was secured by the official nominee of BNP.
The following points need to be noted in this regard:
(1) The government and the EC should give a better account of themselves in the coming polls, and should be more careful in maintaining election environment, rules and code of conduct. No violation of election rules should be tolerated and government employees, including the police and the election officials, should be strictly warned against taking partisan role;
(2) BNP has emerged as the main political party and the JP has lost all its political appeal. It is likely to become extinct in the future;
(3) Jamaat has proved itself to be a force to reckon with. It appears that the recent governmental actions against the party has contributed to the rise of its popularity. Instead of painting every Islamic organisation with a broad brush as a terrorist group, the government should be more careful and discerning. Harping on the old and stale theme that the JI is synonymous with al-Qaeda and nothing short of proscribing the party will stabilise Bangladesh politics may prove counter-productive. In neighbouring India, the religion-oriented Narendra Modi-led BJP may even come to power. In the next elections our government and the political parties will do better if they are more careful in marginalising religion-oriented parties and deal with them with more caution and understanding;
(4) The ruling party should immediately initiate dialogue with BNP to find out a formula under which free, fair, non-partisan, impartial and inclusive general elections are held in the country.
The people of Bangladesh deserve to be governed by truly elected representatives.
The writer is Development Economist and advisor to Chairperson of BNP.