Marred by deaths in violence, nomination business, uncontested wins, electoral irregularities and incidents of clashes between supporters of rival candidates, storming of polling stations and ballot stuffing, fake voting, and attacks on minority groups, the Union Parishad (UP) elections were held in the country for the first time along partisan lines. The elections were held in six different phases starting on 22nd March and ending on 4th June, 2016 as per the circular announced on 11th February, 2016 by the Election Commission.
The UP elections were a farce. It was the most violent election in the history of Bangladesh. Terror and panic was spread instead of a festive mood across the country. The ruling Awami League snatched the victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) by using muscle power and spreading fear among the people. Except for few places, the polls were a complete farce and forgery all over the country. Voters could not cast their votes according to their will, especially for the post of chairman.
A BRIEF ON THE SIX PHASES OF UP POLLS:
The Union Parishad elections were held in 6 phases in 4 thousand 103 UPs across the country. Results came out for 4 thousand 2 UPs, and for the rest 101 UPs, polls will be held later. Even though the results of this farcical election is completely irrelevant, the Election Commission announced that among chairman seats, the ruling party, the Awami League, won 2 thousand 661, Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 367, other parties (Jatyo Party, Jatyo Shomajtantrik Dol JSD, Jatyo Party-JP, Workers Party, Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Zaker Party and Jamiate Ulama e Islam Bangladesh) 60, and Independent candidates in 898, most of whom are rebel candidates of the Awami League. (See attached Table 1 for reference)
In this election, 31.29% of votes were secured by the Independent candidates. It is the highest for Independent candidates in the history of any polls held in Bangladesh. According to the Election Commission, most of the elected 898 Independent candidates were rebel candidates of the Awami League and a few from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. As Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh was not allowed to take part in the polls, some of their candidates contested as Independent candidates. The Independent candidates were second to the ruling party in the election standings. One of the largest party the BNP managed to secure only 18.98% votes, whereas the Awami League secured 45.46%, and the rest of the parties, namely Jatyo Party, Jatyo Shomajtantrik Dol JSD, Jatyo Paty JP, Workers Party, Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Zaker Party and Jamiat E Ulamai Islam Bangladesh) got 2.3% votes. These statistics provided by the EC are very hard to believe. (See attached Table 2 for reference)
Only 29 female Chairman candidates were elected in this election. Among them, 24 are from the Awami League, 6 of whom were uncontested. Independent candidates won 4, and Jatyo Party 1.
Immediately after the announcement of the Union Parishad elections in February 2016 violence started across the country. 108 people died till the polls day of the 6th phase, leaving more than 6000 people injured. As of June 14, 2016, 116 people were killed and 8000 injured. It is to be noted that the violence is still continuing. (See attached Table 3 for reference)
This violent election broke the record of uncontested victory for the post of Chairman in the history of UP elections. Election Commission sources said that 217 Awami League candidates won uncontested for the post of Chairman.
The BNP Chairman candidates were absent in 554 UPs. Among these, in 102 UPs the BNP candidates’ lives were threatened, so they had to step back. In 188 UPs, they could not submit their nomination papers due to obstruction by the Awami League. In 59 UPs, they were forced to withdraw their nomination. In many places, their nomination papers were declared “Rejected” by the Election Office. This shows the kind of adversity and helplessness faced by the BNP candidates.
UNPRECEDENTED VOTE FRAUD, BALLOT BOX SNATCHING AND VIOLENCE:
Ineffective Election Commission: In these UP polls the role of the Election Commission has been seriously questioned. They remained silent spectators to the blatant irregularities and violence perpetrated by the Awami League. The Election Commission did not take any action against any irregularity and violence except for very few even after having thousands of specific complaints. Among 36 thousand voting centers in the country, the Commission withheld voting in only 346 centers, whereas most of the centers were taken over by the Awami League. The Election Commission failed to stop violence, false voting, vote rigging all over the country even though it had the power and jurisdiction to stop such events. The legal wing of the Election Commission advised the Commission to take action against the serious wrongdoings. But the Election Commission took into cognizance only a few cases and advised other complainants to seek redress in regular courts.
The Election Commission wrote letters during three phases of polls to the Ministry of Home Affairs stating that there is no environment for fair election. But there was no response from the Ministry. Before every election, the Ministry of Home Affairs usually asks the legal firearms owners to deposit their arms at the local police station, but it did not happen this time. No operation was conducted by the Police to recover illegal weapons even though it was mentioned in the Circular of the Ministry of Home Affairs. This helpless state of the Election Commission provided a natural ground for violence to be committed by the Awami League goons in all the phases of the election.
The Election Commission virtually took no steps to prevent, stop, or curb the violence. Instead, the Chief Election Commissioner defended this farcical and forged election by means of an alibi. While talking to the media after holding a meeting with the local administration, personnel, and high ups of the law enforcing bodies, the CEC said, “Large scale electoral violence occurred in West Bengal, Bihar and other places of India. Electoral violence appears to be the culture of the subcontinent. A traffic Police constable may be assigned the duty to show the location of polling station in foreign countries, but armed Police battalion is not deployed. It seems we need to bring in tanks to hold elections ………. Dirty incidents of polling booth capture have come down. Verily, disordered and illegal activities have occurred in quite a few polling booths. These three or four isolated incidents are shown repeatedly, which creates a notion in the minds of everybody that faulty elections are held everywhere.”
THE ELECTION OF VIOLENCE AND RIGGING:
Since the beginning of the recent UP elections, display of muscle and illegal firearms became blaring when ruling party candidates started swooping on BNP candidates in various ways. BNP candidates were being barred from submitting nomination papers. The way Awami cadre in collaboration with administration, Election Commission and government agencies snatched people’s franchise right, it is nothing but a mockery of human rights and brazen hallmark of fascism in utter violation of international norms and ethics. Even the alliance partners of the government expressed their resentment about this election.
ROLE OF MEDIA:
Many journalists were threatened by Awami activists and law enforcing agencies while collecting information of irregularities prior to Election Day. While performing the election day duty, many journalists were obstructed by Awami goons and law enforcing agencies; in some cases they were beaten and driven out of the polling centers. In some cases their equipment were broken, and memory cards containing pictures of rigging and violence were taken out.
OPINION OF ELECTION OBSERVERS AND EXPERTS:
Election observers, experts and civil society organizations like SUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance), Broti, Dr. Tofayel Ahmed (Local Government Expert), Dr. Moinul Islam (Teacher and Economist) and others expressed their dissatisfaction and deep concern at the violence and unprecedented rigging and malpractices that took place in this year’s UP elections. They also seriously criticized the Election Commission for its inaction and utter failure in the fair and impartial conduct of the election. The diplomats present in Dhaka also expressed their deep concern about the violence and killings in the UP election. (Some of their quotes may be seen at the end of this summary)
NEW FEATURES/ STRATEGIES OF IRREGULARITY AND FORGERY:
- Nomination Business: Knowing that victory is secured with Awami League’s “Boat” symbol, the Awami League leaders became desperate to get nomination by hook or by crook, resulting in a huge nomination trade and violence within the party. This kind of widespread nomination trade was unknown before.
- In many cases, the Awami League candidates compelled the proposers and seconders of the rebel Awami League candidates and BNP candidates to deny and disown their proposals and secondments resulting in invalidation of their chosen candidatures. This never happened before in the election history of the country.
- Awami League miscreants tortured, in some cases held hostage, the wife and children and other family members of their opponent candidates in their absence when they had to leave the area for fear of arrest or violence.
- Ballot boxes were stuffed with ballots in the night prior to the Election Day which the Chief Election Commissioner indirectly admitted in statements he made to the press.
- Students in school uniforms under the patronization of AL candidates were found to wait in long queues and were made to cast false votes.
- In many cases, Awami goons in guise of Ansar and Police were found to play the role of law enforcing agencies in and around polling centers.
- In many cases, votes were cast in the name of deceased voters.
- In some polling centers, the rate of cast votes was more than 100%.
- Awami League goons did not allow the opposition candidates’ polling agents to enter the polling centers; or drove them out of the centers by force after assaulting and manhandling them. It was very hard for BNP and other party candidates to find polling agents as the polling agents’ lives were threatened before the Election Day.
- AL candidates compelled the voters to vote for the chairman candidate in the open and put the ballot paper in the ballot box in front of everybody. In many cases, they did not hand over the ballot paper to the voters instead they themselves marked the ballot paper and stuffed it in the ballot box. This kind of open rigging never happened ever before.
- Presiding Officers along with the members of law enforcement agencies were found stuffing ballot boxes while ruling party candidates used firearms to drive away representatives belonging to the opposition party. This kind of rampant and desperate malpractice never happened before.
- Prospective candidates were made to quit the election scenario by implicating them in criminal cases or threatening to implicate them or to kill them by the Awami League candidates.
- In many cases, the election results were reversed by putting the presiding officers in fear of death.
- Unprecedented inaction on the part of the Election Commission.
- In 4 UPs of Rangamati Hill Tracts, no Awami League or BNP candidates could file their nomination papers being threatened with death. And in 3 UPs in the Hill Tracts, no one was found to file nomination papers out of fear. Many candidates flew to Chittagong and Rangamati Headquarters for refuge. As a result, the election process could not at all be initiated in the Hill Tracts.
ISSUES UNVEILED AND OUR RECOMMENDATIONS:
- The sudden decision of holding UP elections under the political party system had raised many questions. Many experts opined that the new system would trigger widespread violence at grassroots level. Their concern has finally come true.
Though party-based local government election is practiced in many democratic countries, it is time to consider whether the system is feasible and applicable in Bangladesh.
- Many are of the opinion that party-based UP election is no doubt a politically motivated decision taken by the Awami League to come out from its image crisis tainted by the non-participatory and disputed parliamentary election of January 5, 2014 which went in utter violation of international standard and requirement throwing the government in a legitimacy crisis. Although 80% – 90% ruling party chairman candidates have been declared winners in last UP election, the government could hardly avail of this as it was marred by violence, and endless flaws. The government failed to exploit the landslide victory to overcome its legitimacy crisis. It rather came as a boomerang and worsened the situation for the ruling party.
- Another target of the ruling party was further cementation of its footing at the grassroots level. But internal clash, feud and killings creating permanent and long lasting divisions in the ruling party left the objective unachieved.
- Some candidates of the 14-party alliance were also barred from participating in the electoral process; those who could somehow submit nomination papers were either forced to quit or failed to launch effective electoral campaigns in the face of obstruction and violence from the Awami cadres, resulting in resentment among small stakeholders of the 14 party alliance.
- The decision to hold Chairman elections on the basis of party symbols and member elections without party symbols created a conflicting situation in the polling system.
- Number of deaths and killings this time created a record in the history of election in Bangladesh, leaving 116 killed and around 8000 injured till 14th June 2016.
- This election has been marked with both visible and invisible violence. Invisible violence included threatening of opposition candidates and barring them from filing nominations and barring their supporters from voting by putting them in fear. While visible violence includes assault, firing, destruction of campaign materials, stuffing ballot boxes, etc.
- This election also created history in the record of 217 Awami League UP Chairman declared elected uncontested. No other candidate from any other party got the luck of being declared elected uncontested.
- Election violence occurred mostly between the Awami League candidates and their rebels. Many BNP leaders and workers could not stay home due to a hostile political situation and state of fear. As a result, a large party like the BNP could not participate and involve itself in the election process independently and at ease. Needless to say this is very harmful for a democratic process.
- In this election, the Awami League specially targeted BNP strongholds, like Feni, Lakshmipur, Bogra, Noakhali, Comilla, Chitittagong and Rajshahi. This suggests that the government has chosen to hold UP election under party symbol to materialize its far-reaching blueprint.
- Usually, as in India, where election is held in phases, final result is declared after the completion of all the phases so that the result of one phase cannot affect or influence that of the others. But the Election Commission in Bangladesh, by publishing results after each phase of UP election paved the way for inevitable partisan practice in the election process.
- This election has undoubtedly proved that the Election Commission is inefficient, inactive, spineless, partisan and completely incapable of delivering a free and fair election. This commission is not willing to execute and implement its own authority. They are used to look for what the government wishes and act accordingly. This election has conveyed a clear message that no free, fair and transparent election is possible under the present partisan and sycophantic Election Commission.
- To save democracy, the demand for establishment of a free, fair, neutral and transparent Election Commission is now the top-most priority. It is high time to press the demand home.
SOME COMMENTS OF THE ELECTION OBSERVERS AND EXPERTS:
“The future is bleak, if the trend of open violence, booth capture and false voting in this party symbol based election continues. The Election Commission did not get any help from the Government Departments as per the Constitution. The Commission and the Government are describing the incidents of 145 dead as one or two isolated incidents. We want to say, uninterrupted isolated incidents have occurred.”
-M. Hafizuddin Khan, Chairman of SUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance)
“The present Election Commission wants to shirk responsibility on others after failing to hold a free and fair election. No excuse can be accepted. They have failed to hold free and fair elections despite holding constitutional positions. This election has never been acceptable. Because there had been huge fraud, violence, and nomination trade in the election. This election could not ensure democratic transition. The Election Commission is a constitutional body, therefore the responsibility for all these had to be borne by the Election Commission.”
-Dr. Badiul Alam Mojumder, General Secretary of SUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance)
“This election process was questionable from the very beginning. The Commission did not take any action with neutrality and courage standing on the legal ground … If this Union Parishad election gets recognition as a mode, then surely our electoral system will crumble. Our democratic system begins to crumble, which will not bring good to anybody. Therefore a national dialogue should be held to review different aspects of the election without any delay in the national interest”.
-Dilip Kumar Sarker, Central Coordinator of SUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance)
“There shall never be free and fair election in this country if the government does not want it. That is why the government has to take measures. The situation that prevails now shows that it is rather said less if this election is called questionable. This bullet-pierced election. Nobody is thinking about the UP Election. Shall there be any election in this country is a big question”.
-Dr, Tofayel Ahmed, Local Government Expert
“We have no election. Where have we taken the election? God save us! It will take time to understand the depth of damage caused by this Union Parishad election. Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabondhu, has to appear in the dock of history. How in her own hand she has destroyed the electoral system!”
-Dr. Moinul Islam, Teacher & Economist
‘Every incident of violence is a matter of concern, irrespective of place and occurrence. It’s everybody’s responsibility to ensure that voters get unhindered opportunity to cast their vote. This election has brought an ‘apocalypse’ for the democratic process in Bangladesh.”
-Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, US Ambassador in Bangladesh
A MATRIX ON SOME STATISTICS OF RECENTLY HELD UP ELECTION HAS BEEN UNDERLINED:
|PHASE-WISE RESULT OF UP ELECTION 2016|
|Date of Election||Election Held||Re- Election||Awami League||BNP||Other Party||Indepe ndent|
|Total Elected||Elected Uncontested||Elected||No candidate|
|1st Phase||March 22||725||1||540||54||47||119||9||103|
|2nd Phase||March 31||644||10||450||34||61||79||8||115|
|3rd Phase||April 23||615||5||395||29||60||81||16||163|
|4th Phase||May 07||703||20||439||34||70||106||13||161|
|5th Phase||May 28||717||38||431||39||67||100||11||170|
|6th Phase||June 04||699||27||406||27||62||69||3||186|
|PERCENTAGE OF VOTE IN UP ELECTION 2016|
|Party||Percentage of vote|
(Jatiya Samajtantrik Dol JSD, Bangladesh Workers Party, Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Jatiya Party JP)
|PICTURE OF VIOLENCE SINCE DECLARATION OF UP SCHEDULE ON FEBRUARY 11 TILL MAY 8|
|Killed till before election||Killed on the day of election||Injured|
|1st Step||March 22||10||11||More than 2000|
|2nd Step||March 31||3||8||More than 1100|
|3rd Step||April 23||11||1||More than 900|
|4th Step||May 07||13||6||More than 1000|
|5th Step||May 28||14||16||More than 600|
|6th Step||June 04||11||4||More than 350|
|Total Killed 108, Injured More than 6000 till 4th June, 2016|
* 116 killed and around 8000 injured till 14th June, 2016.