ELECTIONS to union councils on party ballots for the first time, to 639 unions in the second phase on March 31 and to 725 unions in the first phase on March 22, marked mostly by violence with the stuffing of ballot boxes, capture of polling stations and intimidation of voters and candidates mostly by ruling Awami League activists once again point to a degrading political culture and more so during the tenure of the Awami League. Nine were killed in the second phase while eight were killed in the first phase. The violence that broke out between supporters of Awami League candidates and their rebel rivals, between ruling party supporters and the law enforcement agencies and between supporters of the Awami League and its political arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party betrays a take-all attitude of the incumbents, bolstered by the weak Election Commission, failing to rise up to the occasion and working in partisan interest. Unofficial results of the second-phase elections had, out of 639 positions, 429 AL chairman candidates ‘elected’ that include 33 being elected unopposed; the results of the first phase had, out of 725 positions, 450 AL chairman candidates ‘elected’ that include 54 being elected uncontested. It should not be difficult to reason that in the cases, where AL candidates were elected unopposed, there had been clear intimidation of the opposition candidates by the ruling party activists. Even after all this, the Election Commission, on the second-phase holding, said that some incidents had tarnished the polling and yet it was better than in the first-phase, when the commission said that it was ‘definitely acceptable’ and held in a free, fair and peaceful manner but some ‘isolated incidents of irregularities’. With polling being suspended at 33 centres on March 31 and at 56 centres on March 22, the commission seeks to be complacent while it forgets that one such incident is too many to tarnish the image of the commission and that it would have needed to take more drastic action if it had meant to discharge its duty rising above partisan interest as irregularities were reported from 693 unions on March 31 and from 712 unions on March 22. No elections, especially during the second tenure of the Awami League in the government since 2008 national elections, had been free of violence and irregularities, lending credence to the public perception that free, fair and acceptable elections under the AL government and the incumbent Election Commission were possible. Such electoral fraud and violence, which were commonplace in the past, especially during the military dictatorship, had almost not taken place in national elections after the overthrow of the military dictator HM Ershad, in the 1990 uprising, especially since the 1996 introduction of the caretaker government system. But the menace came back with the farcical national elections of January 5, 2014. In what has so far come about, it is time the Awami League government and the Election Commission made a course correction after some soul-searching. And conscious sections of society need to raise their voice against such electoral fraud and violence for this to happen.
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