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Clashes, violations and doubts mark election milieu

Published : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 365

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

Hopefully Dec 30 is going to be another landmark in the political history of Bangladesh as the 11th national election is scheduled to be held on that day. Heavy movements and showdowns centering this important political event are going on. Awami League has started its nomination process immediately after election schedule declaration. Jatiyo Oikya Front and other parties followed soon.

Aspirant nomination seekers, who started campaign in their respective areas even few months back, of two major alliances turned very active to portray their popularity which even resulted in violation of several rules and regulations of electoral campaign guidelines. At this point, several concerns about the overall election environment as well as the participation of all parties in the upcoming elections exist strongly. 300 parliamentary seats will be up for contests in the upcoming elections with thousands of aspirant candidates in the run for nominations. With multiple candidates of a party seeking nomination in a seat may cause a lot of chaos which is very much evident till now.

Truly, there are many deserving candidates in few seats from a single party, especially Awami League. Awami League leaders and activists in the field level have nurtured themselves during the last two terms of their party in the government. Many leaders came into the limelight. Moreover, the young leaders are more active in this year's nomination run. Hence, it will be a very tough task for Awami League to finalize the nomination this time containing the emotions of the leaders who will not receive nominations.

Similar is the situation for country's largest opposition and key part of Jatiyo Oikyo Front, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). With their absence in the government for more than 10 years, BNP's top tier is slightly scattered and many field level leaders have come up to bridge the gap being energetic during tough times. The comparatively silent top leaders also surfaced focusing on the upcoming elections. Hence, difficulty will rise for BNP to choose between veteran and young leaders. Along with chaos, many might leave the party if fail to receive nomination after 10 years of waiting.

Around 12,000 people from different parties or self will seek nominations with over 3,500 nomination seekers of Awami League and over 4,500 nomination seekers from BNP and its allies. Only around 1,000 will finally compete for the 300 seats. Hence, clashes and violence are most likely to occur inside and outside the parties as already few such incidents were recorded.

Two Awami League activists lost their lives while several got injured during preparation of an event at Mohammadpur on Nov 10 -- the first life loss related to the upcoming election. Later on Nov 16, four people were killed and 100 others got injured in a clash between two factions of Awami League over establishing supremacy in Nilakkha union of Raipura upazila of Narsingdi. Though these two incidents involved only the ruling party activists, similar incidents can take place with BNP candidates also.

Awami League chairperson and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina already warned her party leaders to avoid such clashes among the party's own nomination seekers and declared to eradicate anyone if turns against if not nominated. BNP is yet to provide any such warnings may be due to the lack of strong leadership in the party right now. But they will also face some clashes among their nomination seekers. Moreover, leaving seats for the ally members will put both Awami League and BNP in a tough spot. Hence, before and after declaration of final nominated candidates list many such incidents are feared which is already creating panic among the general people.

To keep the election environment violence free is the duty of all political parties but it seems none of our large political parties are really concentrating to ensure that. The main opposition BNP, after protecting peace for a long time finally turned to violence on Nov 14. Their supporters got involved in ugly clashes with police in front of BNP headquarter at Naya Paltan, Dhaka shattering the fragile peace which had been prevailing in the country ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The hype of the election took away the calm of BNP and many identified this incident as a part of their plan to boycott election again as they have done in the past to damage the image of the government as well as of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, this type of incident is not at all acceptable irrespective of a party's position.

Importantly if good, gentle, intellect and socially committed persons do not get nominations, the people will fail. Till now, we have not seen much of leaders with those traits to collect and submit nomination forms. This implicates our political milieu's rotten condition which does not allow amicable personalities to participate in the elections. Hence, if the political parties only nominate leaders with money, terror and muscle, then violence is a must. And for people, even with a free, fair and credible election, there will be no benefit.

During the election of 2014, over 25 people were killed and thousands were injured. 21 people were killed only on the Election Day. Many polling centres were torched and violent clashes spread throughout the country. But considering 154 uncontested seats where Awami League and its allies were declared victor due to the boycott of BNP, the EC had to monitor only half of the constituencies and then we had so much violence. This time, with all 300 constituencies, the work for the EC will be much harder and will require cooperation from the political parties, Election Secretariat, law enforcers, media and everyone else.

Analysts fear the political situation may get complicated further following the activities after announcement of the schedule as major issues remain unsettled with the Oikya Front, who have often threatened to intensify agitation in the coming days. Now with the schedule declared and EC's stance of no change to the declared schedule, Oikya Front leaders will try to pressurize the EC to address their demands in different ways -- many of which might not be completely peaceful.

Here both the EC as well as the political parties need to demonstrate free, fair and credible election-oriented attitude. Though it is the responsibility of the EC to ensure an unbiased and peaceful environment, without the cooperation of the political parties, EC alone cannot carry out this huge task. For example, though EC has ordered the potential election candidates to remove all sorts of campaign materials by Nov 18, if the parties do not cooperate, it will be very hard for the EC.

EC has held several meetings with representatives of different political parties. Many political parties often sent their representatives to have meetings with the EC on different issues. But the EC should have called upon the representatives of different political parties together at least once to remind them on election code of conducts and should have listened to their concerns in an open platform. But no such initiative was visible though a session like such could have worked very well to break ice between different political parties which was later done through the dialogues initiated by PM Sheikh Hasina.

Works of EC should always be unbiased and prompt to address issues especially when the opposition forces are always raising fingers on their transparency. Recently both Awami League and BNP violated the election code of conducts as hundreds of leaders with thousands of activists came with processions of motorcades to collect and submit their nomination forms blocking major roads causing extreme agony of the citizens.

Though Awami League started the process on weekends, BNP's process started on weekdays. But citizens somewhat accepted the situation as we as a nation are very tolerant and flew with the election's festive nature. But EC should have noticed that violation from the very beginning but they responded few days later which even raised questions over their neutrality. So, EC must be tactful to reduce chaos during the elections.

After death of two activists during election related events, both EC and Awami League became careful and took some steps. BNP, being a pioneer political party should have been alert also. If so, the clash between their activities and law enforcers could have been avoided. Rather than blaming others, they must take steps to avoid such incidents in the future which can happen among the activists of their nomination seekers too.

At one side, initiation of several development projects due to PM Hasina's strategy and commitment in leading towards our first step to become a developing country while on the other side remains issues like; freedom of speech, harassment of the law enforcers, lack of justice, burden of taxes, lack of citizen services, negligence to people's issues etc. Hence, 11th national election will be very crucial for us as the outcome might impact our future progress as the international bodies are also closely following.

Considering the trust prevailing among our political parties, carrying out an election under the partisan government will be quite a challenge. But if it can be done properly, this will be a landmark achievement in the political history of Bangladesh. On top of that, the outcome of the elections will dictate our future progress, prosperity and pride. Therefore, all Bangladeshi citizens will eye on a free, fair and credible election with participation of all parties as now we wait for Dec 30.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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