The Centre for Governance Studies organized a Seminar on “Electoral Politics and People’s Right to Vote” on November 24, 2018 at the auditorium of Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies, Dhaka. The Seminar was attended by 20 participants drawn from political parties, civil society, academics, former top police and military officers, and media personalities. The seminar attracted huge attention in the media-both in television and print, as it was timely, and addressed the core of issues on the verge of Bangladesh’s 11th Parliamentary election scheduled to be held on 30 December. This year’s Bangladesh election assumed uniqueness in the sense that it is happening under a party government.
The election system has also degraded over the years particularly after 2014 fraudulent election. The people have become apprehensive whether they would be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote in a free and peaceful environment in 2018. The keynote speaker of the Seminar was the former Election Commissioner Brigadier General Dr. M. Sakhawat Hossain. Barrister Amirul Islam, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court who was one of the framers of Bangladesh’s First Constitution was the Guest of Honor. Prof. Dr. M. Ataur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Political Science Association & Chairman of the Centre for Governance Studies chaired. Mr. Zillur Rahman, Executive Director of the Centre moderated the Seminar. In his keynote paper, former election commissioner, maintained that the party in power has been dominating the political space providing a very restricted space to opposition that might spill over and put a huge stress on the Election Commission.
It would be very difficult for the Commission to hold a ‘free’, ‘fair’, ‘credible’ and ‘genuine’, election,” Former caretaker government adviser M Hafizuddin Khan said the EC’s role and government support were crucial in holding a credible election. He also doubted whether the EC was aware of its responsibility and power. Mr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary-General of Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik, said there were many challenges for holding a fair election as it would be held under a partisan government, and parliament was not dissolved yet. He was very concerned whether these the prevailing situation would ensure a level-playing field. He expressed doubts over competitiveness of the election though most political parties have vowed to participate. He maintained that the formation of Election Commission was not transparent and there might be “systemic manipulation” of election. Most of the participants were doubtful about the use and efficacy of EVM which is a modern technology but its acceptability to the people has not been to be confirmed.
A prerequisite for “genuine” polls is whether voters could cast their votes peacefully for their desired candidates and whether votes were counted properly, remain the main concern for most of the participants. Fair Election Monitoring Alliance President Munira Khan said voters would have to be provided with a sense of security that they would not be harassed after casting votes for preferred candidates. Mr. Abdul Awal Minto a former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries, and Vice-Chairman of Bangladesh Nationalist Party expressed doubt whether the Election Commission would deliver a credible election as has to depend on the administration for holding the election while the administration is under the present party government.
The Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said his party wanted a peaceful parliamentary election because they were respectful of people’s mandate. The Guest of Honor Barrister M Amir-Ul Islam noted that while the election was nearing, many people were still fighting legal battles to be eligible for contesting the polls. This created a serious impediment for holding a free and fair election. He also cast serious doubt whether this Election Commission would be able create a “level-playing” field for all the parties, and ensure a free and fair election in Bangladesh.