The EC can't ignore low voter turnout
It has been reported that there is a lack of interest among voters about the Khulna mayoral elections. The primary reason for this apathy is the absence of the main opposition BNP in the polls in a city where the party has had a strong voter base. Without BNP's participation, the mayoral race is seen as a mere formality with no real competition.
Given the track record of past city, by- and national polls, there is much to be concerned about in regards to voter apathy. The six by-polls in February, which took place a year after the formation of the present Election Commission, were marked by a poor voter turnout of about 28 percent. Such abysmal turnout was attributed to the absence of the main opposition BNP and a lack of trust regarding the neutrality of the responsible departments. The last two general elections have also greatly contributed to diminishing voters' enthusiasm, with one being uncontested and the other marred by allegations of widespread vote-rigging.
The EC's refrain of elections being "peaceful and organised" rings hollow when they are not participatory. This time, too, the EC has given assurance that there is adequate security in all polling stations, so that voters can freely vote. The point that the EC seems to be regularly missing is that, unless candidates from the main opposition party participate in the polls, there is little incentive for all voters to turn up at the polling centres. Can the EC continue to shrug off its failure to convince BNP to participate in these mayoral elections that are a precursor to the upcoming parliamentary elections?
We would like to repeat how urgent it is for major electoral reforms in order to ensure free, fair and participatory elections in the country, which is the mandate of the EC. The trend of uncontested elections, violence and intimidation of opposition rallies, harassment and arbitrary arrests of opposition candidates, administrative bias, and the overall failure to ensure a level playing field for all parties have contributed to destroying the election culture of the country. Clearly, the responsibility to change this debilitating trend lies largely with the government and specifically with the EC. Surely, the EC realises that there can be nothing more damning to the electoral process than when people feel their votes no longer matter. We fervently hope that it will make sincere efforts to convince voters to exercise their constitutional right, which is contingent upon convincing the BNP to come back to the drawing board.