POST TIME: 27 February, 2020 01:03:15 PM
Recent low voter turnout in mayoral elections
The schedule of Chattogram City Corporation has recently been announced and the election is due in next month. People want to see a good turnout there

Recent low voter turnout in mayoral elections

There was less than 30 percent turnout in the recently held two city corporation elections of Dhaka. The poor turnout speaks about the apathy that has developed among voters regarding the electoral process. Voters’ presence was thin at most of the polling centres where over 54 lakh voters were supposed to elect the city’s guardians. This poor turnout indicates people’s diminishing confidence in the country’s electoral practices. Many people were deprived of their voting rights in some of the previous elections too. The Election Commission is failing to create enthusiasm among the voters to go to polling centres. This time too voters did not have confidence that they would be able to cast their votes without any fear. The voter turnout should have been higher this time. But the poor presence of voters indicates that the Election Commission has failed to uphold the trust of the voters.
We do not need any research to investigate the low turnout in our recent elections. Any novice and ordinary person might be well aware about the reasons for this low voter turnout and voting apathy in recent times in Bangladesh. The political parties are liable for this. In the past the political parties going to leave power after their tenure had to bow to the demands of the opposition parties and adhere to the international pressure to ensure free and credible elections. That is why the provision for caretaker government was made through constitutional arrangement. In spite of that, every time the incumbent parties tried to manipulate the next election to pave the way for their return next time. The spirit of the caretaker government was thus spoilt. Later on this system was legally annulled by dint of majority of the incumbent party in parliament through the 15th Amendment of the constitution. So general elections are now being held under a party government. In a country like ours where democracy has not become institutionalized, it is difficult to hold any election without any bias and influence under a political government. There are researches about how election is rigged in countries staying at the bottom of the list of malfunctioning democracies.

In their highly acclaimed book How to Rig an Election (Yale Univesity Press, 2018), Nic Cheeseman of the University of Birmingham and Brian Klaas of the London School of Economics have shown that 75 per cent of elections are won by governments in power through authoritarian adaptation and systemic manipulations. The authors in this book argue that the increase in voting has not led to a corresponding rise in embracing democratic norms. Rather, voter intimidation, strategic misinformation, and ballot-rigging are common in many countries that describe themselves as democratic.

In tandem with the domestic political scenario, the external factors that impact the holding of credible election have taken a new dimension. In Bangladesh the pressure for credible election was once created from external forces. Foreign pressure for democracy and a fair vote has now diminished to such an extent that internal political forces now cannot find external allies. The influence of the democratic West on us has recently become weak. To the key external partners of Bangladesh, stability is at this moment more important than a flawed election. For the external forces, Bangladesh is an important ally in the fight against terrorism and stability, not the quality of election is a priority for them at present. In other words, economic interest has now become more important than any questionable election to all external forces. The dependence on external donor agencies for funding our development works is also now virtually low.

It is a fact that Bangladesh cannot ignore the geopolitical reality centering Bangladesh. It is also unrealistic to think that the caretaker system will again be established. It is the faintest hope the opposition can have about achieving from the government. But what can be done is to overhaul the flawed electoral system. The party in position should realize that people’s apathy to voting is gradually leading to the de-politicization of the statecraft. This practice will make the incumbent party both politically and morally weak and dependent on extra- constitutional forces devoid of the spirit of sacrifice for the country and humanitarian values. The incumbent party may also become weak in the absence of politics devoid of morality and ideology. The opposition also needs to play its constructive role in re-establishing the glorious past of free and credible election. The main opposition cannot decry its responsibilities for the present scenario. They should reflect on their previous roles and responsibilities and work judiciously to re-establish the culture of fair and credible election. It should have the conviction that it needs to rely on the people’s mandate for the return to power. The schedule of Chattogram City Corporation has recently been announced and the election is due in next month. People want to see a credible election there. The Election Commission should be strengthened with more legal and constitutional power. It is to rise to the occasion and play the pivotal role in ensuring credible election at any tier of the state without bias and fear.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English,

BGC Trust University  Bangladesh, Chattogram.

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