The number of local observers in the December 30 election decreased significantly as the NGO Affairs Bureau has not granted the No Objection Certificate to 15 Election Working Group members until yesterday.
Leaders of the Election Working Group (EWG), an alliance of 22 local organisations that monitor election, said at least three of the 15 who did not get the NOC have already said they would not monitor the election. The other 12 would have to reduce their number of observers drastically, as they would not get foreign funds.
In that case, the number of local observers will be around 17,100 although the Election Commission had approved 25,920 local observers of 81 organisations to monitor the election on Sunday.
“The NGO Affairs Bureau has given the NOC to seven of our members until Thursday,” EWG Chairman Abdul Awal told The Daily Star.
“Democracywatch, Coast Trust and Jagarani Chakra Foundation have informed us that they will not monitor the election,” he added.
He further said that the rest have taken the decision to reduce their number of local observers due to the lack of foreign funding.
Asked about the shortage of funds, Awal said development partners were losing interest in funding election observation missions across the world.
“This can be one reason,” he said.
Their priorities for Bangladesh are also changing. Many development partners are now channeling funds for the Rohingya refugees, he added.
Awal estimated that the seven organisations that got the NOC from the NGO Affairs Bureau would deploy around 5,700 local observers.
While the remaining twelve will deploy around 700 local observers even though they got the EC's approval for 9,300 observers, he added.
Executive Director of Jagarani Chakra Foundation Azadul Kabir and Assistant Director of Coast Trust Mostafa Kamal Akond said they were withdrawing from all election monitoring activities this time due to lack of funds and to avoid all debates and misunderstandings raised.
HT Imam, co-chairman of Awami League Election Steering Committee, on December 25, demanded that the Election Commission withdraw permission given to nine local election observer organisations, as most of the observers were “activists of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami”.
The organisations are: Democracywatch, Khan Foundation, Light House, Bangladesh Manobadhikar Somonnoy Parishad, Jagarani Chakra, Nobolok, Coast Trust, Shariatpur Development Society and Noakhali Rural Development Society.
EC Joint Secretary SM Asaduzzaman said they approved 25,920 local observers from 81 organisations to monitor the election.
These organisations applied for the approval of 34,671 local observers, according to EC sources.
Around 1.6 lakh domestic and 600 international observers monitored the 2008 election. About 2.18 lakh domestic and 225 international observers monitored the 2001 election.
However, the number of voters and polling stations are much higher this time than in 2008.
In the 2001 polls, 29,978 polling centres were set up for 7.50 crore voters. In 2008, there were 35,263 polling centres for 8.1 crore voters.
For Sunday's election, around 40,183 polling stations will be set up for more than 10.41 crore electorates.