Unlike any polls in the past, eligible city dwellers yesterday were free to exercise their right to vote through machine, for the first time, at all centres across Dhaka.
February 1, 2020 should have gone down in the history of this democracy-craving nation as a very special day, the day when about 55 lakh voters were supposed to elect their mayors for two city corporations. This digitisation could have laid to rest all the ghosts in the electoral system. The long culture of ballot-stuffing, fake-voting or wrong-counting would have come to an end, for good. And the Election Commission would have become the toast of Bangladesh.
So, how did the day go for real?
Machine proved to be vulnerable, digital ghosts emerged and the EC ended up as the biggest loser.
The wintry morning set a perfect stage for fair polls. The climate was also very inviting for voters to come out from their homes on a day, declared a public holiday to cast votes amid festivity.
Largely peaceful was the climate around all polling centres. Still, the polls ambience, as seen by our 48 correspondents at 120 of 2,468 centres, was eerily quizzical. It was emptiness everywhere. Empty road, empty voting centre, empty polling booth, empty presence of opposition parties and empty look in the faces of polling officials. As if the word empty personified the city elections.
The turnout less than 30 percent only reflected how lowly the EC had actually fared in the trust scale of majority of voters who chose to forgo their right to elect.
Historically, Bangladeshis were most enthusiastic about their voting rights. Where did the enthusiasm go or how voters of today developed this mass apathy towards their once-cherished rights could be a grim soul-searching for our political system. But this symptom they certainly did not develop overnight. Ghosts in our electoral process have contributed to voters’ gradual loss of interest.
However, irrespective of who won or lost in the city polls, the single biggest loser is the EC for sure. A strong ‘no vote’ was cast against the EC and election process, with majority of voters not turning up at polling centres. The erosion in voters’ confidence started a long ago, with the EC appearing more and more compromising with the powers that be while holding elections in the past.
Apart from the overt bias of allowing the ruling party to violate the election code of conduct, the EC remained nonchalant to common concerns of parties out of power and experts about the prospect of getting EVMs malfunctioned and mishandled. Their strongest concern was: ‘if machine is made by men, it can be hacked by men as well.’
The EC neither came forward to dispel their fear nor give parties the confidence about men around the machine during the polls. It maintained the same stance while moving on to conduct the city elections.
Coming out of polling centres yesterday, almost all voters complained to our correspondents about the presence of too many ‘helping hands’ around the machine.
Who were they? Helping hands for voters or ghosts that actually ran the machine? An independent investigation may clear the air around machine. But what’s more urgent now for the EC is to clear its name and win back voter’s confidence in elections.