Expressing grave concern over the ongoing spate of violence ahead of Sunday's polls, Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar has said violence and election cannot go hand in hand.
“If we cannot hold a peaceful election in a violence-free environment after 47 years of independence, the sacrifice of 30 lakh martyrs for independence and democracy will go in vain. We cannot allow this to happen,” he said at a press briefing in his Nirbachan Bhaban office yesterday.
Reading out a statement, the commissioner said, “An election is not just about being participatory; it has to be free, fair, neutral and lawful. Besides, we will not be able to hold our heads high before the world as a dignified nation if the election is not acceptable and credible.”
Mahbub added, “We don't want to be stigmatised by holding a questionable election. No matter who wins the polls; it has to be ensured that the countrymen don't lose.”
The commissioner has been alleging that there is no level playing field for the upcoming polls. He had issued a similar written statement on December 17 when he said a level playing field was still absent.
However, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda insisted that is not the case and that the election field is very much level. The remarks and counter remarks of the CEC and Mahbub hogged the headlines as the two publicly spoke against each other about the level playing field.
According to media reports, motorcades and campaigns of at least 53 BNP and Jatiya Oikyafront candidates have been attacked allegedly by Awami League men since election campaign officially began on December 10.
Over 1,100 people, mostly BNP men, have been injured in the attacks.
Yesterday, Mahbub made separate calls to members of law enforcement agencies, election officials and voters.
Calling upon law enforcers to act and discharge their duties neutrally, he said, “Don't take any undesirable action being over enthusiastic. You are the most vital supportive force in the election. It is your duty to act neutrally.
“Refrain from being biased in the polls. Uphold the dignity and sanctity of your uniform.”
Mahbub also urged all the election officials, including returning officers, to uphold their “conscience in performing their responsibilities in this crucial time of the nation".
“Don't be favourable or hostile to anybody, follow your conscience and discharge your duties with courage according to the law. People will remember with gratitude your contribution in establishing and protecting democracy. The nation cannot bear the liability of any tainted polls.”
The commissioner called for the voters to go to the polling centres without fear and vote for the candidates of their choice. “Do not give in to fear or be lured. Your single vote works as the safeguard for democracy.”
“Remember, this election is for upholding our dignity. This election is for building a beautiful future for the next generation and your children,” he added.
Mahbub did not take any questions from reporters after reading out his statement.
In reaction to Mahbub's statement, HT Imam, co-chairman of AL election steering committee, said they were “stunned” by his statement and said an election commissioner could not issue any directive all on his own and this should not have happened.
“This kind of directive can create confusion among people. It also can destroy the chain of command,” Imam, who led an AL delegation, told reporters after a meeting with the CEC in the evening.
In another development, the ruling AL-led 14-party alliance alleged that opposition BNP and Oikyafront were trying to make the army and December 30 polls questionable.
“The army is deployed as per the demand of BNP and Jatiya Oikyafront. Now they are trying to make the army questionable,” Dilip Barua, general secretary of Bangladesher Samyabadi Dal and a 14-party alliance leader, told journalists after handing over a letter to Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed in the afternoon.
In the letter, Dilip, who led a team, said they protested “attacks on AL men” and sought EC's steps “in stopping conspiracy of BNP and Oikyafront to make the election questionable and attacks on ruling party men”.