Is this the model for the 2024 national election?
On November 5, 2023, the world witnessed a new record in election fraudulence when a polling agent from the ruling Awami League managed to stamp 43 ballots over a mere 57 seconds, equivalent to an astonishing 45 ballots per minute. The 57-second video of the incident has swiftly gone viral on social media. In response, Bangladeshi netizens, witnessing a recurring pattern of blatant frauds in nearly every election under this regime, have channelled their frustration through sarcasm. One prevailing quip suggests that if the individual had channelled his talent towards cricket, particularly considering the lacklustre performance of the Bangladesh cricket team at the ongoing World Cup, he could have achieved greater fame than the renowned speedster Shoaib Akhtar.
Jokes aside, the by-elections in Laxmipur-3 and Brahmanbaria-2 have once again laid bare the grim political reality of Bangladesh, all while the country is just about two months away from its national election. Both by-elections were tainted by numerous irregularities, such as the expulsion of agents representing opposition candidates from polling stations, open voting, fake voting, and the stuffing of ballot boxes. Notably, these transgressions were orchestrated by members of the ruling party. For example, the individual whose video went viral was a former vice president of the Chandraganj Thana committee of the ruling party's student wing. He had been expelled from the committee due to a breach of party discipline. However, his prior expulsion did not deter his participation as a polling agent for the ruling party's candidate.
Amidst widespread national and international appeals for free, fair, and participatory elections in Bangladesh, the ruling party—along with its loyal state apparatus—has orchestrated yet another farce in the name of holding elections. This reveals the hollowness of their frequently repeated promises to conduct the upcoming national election impartially.
What do these glaring instances of electoral fraud reveal about the often-repeated assertions by ruling party leaders that they have restored voting rights to the people? If both the aforementioned polls had been conducted correctly, the ruling party's stake would have remained unscathed, even in the event of an opposition victory. There are no remaining parliamentary sessions for the new MPs to participate in. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the opposition candidates did not represent BNP, but rather the ruling party's ally, Jatiya Party and some other minor parties. In the case of Brahmanbaria, the Jatiya Party candidate called for the cancellation of polling at seven centres, alleging widespread ballot-stuffing by members of Awami League. In Lakshmipur, both Jatiya Party and Zaker Party candidates boycotted the by-poll, citing allegations of vote-rigging by Awami League activists. Unfortunately, the ruling party appears to be consistently disregarding these concerns.
The performance of both the Election Commission and of the government officials responsible for overseeing these elections has been equally exasperating. The returning officer for the Lakshmipur-3 by-polls initially refuted all allegations of electoral fraud. It was only after the 57-second video went viral that he issued a letter to investigate the alleged irregularities. On the other hand, the returning officer for the Brahmanbaria-2 by-poll adamantly denied any irregularities, despite clear evidence of the contrary. We are eagerly anticipating the response of the Election Commission and the chief election commissioner regarding these incidents.
Amidst widespread national and international appeals for free, fair, and participatory elections in Bangladesh, the ruling party—along with its loyal state apparatus—has orchestrated yet another farce in the name of holding elections. This reveals the hollowness of their frequently repeated promises to conduct the upcoming national election impartially. If they cannot establish their impartiality in overseeing a simple by-poll, questions are bound to arise about their commitment to maintain fairness during the impending high-stakes national election.
The deeply flawed 2014 and 2018 elections have not only eroded the integrity of the Bangladeshi state across all its facets, but have also cast a lasting shadow on the country's international reputation. If the by-polls in Lakshmipur-3 and Brahmanbaria-2 serve as a blueprint for the 2024 election, Bangladesh stands on the precipice of an existential threat—one that endangers the foundational principles of the state and the achievements it has made over the past five decades since independence.
In a civilised world, few crimes surpass the injustice of depriving a people of their fundamental right to select their representatives and self-govern. In the case of Bangladesh, this offence is particularly indefensible, given the bloody war its people waged to secure their right to self-determination. The ruling party should not forget this.
Shamsuddoza Sajen is a journalist and researcher. His X handle is @shamsud_doza
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
Follow The Daily Star Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions, commentaries and analyses by experts and professionals. To contribute your article or letter to The Daily Star Opinion, see our guidelines for submission.