Kabir Ahmed Chowdhury

14 May, 2024 03:29

People should be returned to vote

Polling for the first phase of the Sixth Upazila Parishad elections has ended. Barring a few isolated incidents, the election was fairly peaceful. There were fake votes in the election, the influence of many in the ruling party was true, but there were no major untoward incidents. In this case, the Election Commission has reason to be satisfied. But the main cause of embarrassment is voter turnout. Despite many discussions, voters did not turn up as expected in this election.

After the election, on 8th May 2024, Election Commissioner Mr. Alamgir informed journalists at the Election Building that in the first phase of the election, 36.01 percent of votes were cast. Voting took place on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in 22 upazilas and on ballot papers in the remaining 117 upazilas. The voting rate on EVMs was 31.31 percents, and on ballots, it was 37.22 percents. The lowest voter turnout was in Sonatola, Mirsarai, and Kushtia Sadar upazilas. Only 17 percent of votes were cast in those areas. The highest voter turnout was in Khetlal upazila of Joypurhat district. There, the voter turnout was 73.01percents.

The area with the highest voter turnout was Khetlal Upazila in Joypurhat, where there were a total of 95,191 voters. Among them, 64,730 voters exercised their voting rights. In that area, the president of the municipal Awami League, Dulal Mia Sardar, received 30,390 votes. The nearest rival, Awami League leader Taifur Islam Talukdar, received 22,901 votes.

Among the areas with low voter turnout was Sontola in Bogura, where there were 164,332 voters, but only 28,278 voted. In that upazila, the president of the municipal Awami League, Minhajujjaman Liton, received 20,483 votes and was re-elected as chairman. His closest rival, Md. Zakir Hossain, received 7,345 votes.

Kushtia Sadar is another upazila with less votes. Here only 73,299 voters voted out of 420,833 voters. Kushtia Sadar Constituency Member of Parliament and Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul Alam Hanif's cousin Ataur Rahman Ata was elected by getting 67,481 votes. His only rival Abu Ahad Al Mamun got 3,564 votes.

According to the Election Commission, another area with low voter turnout was Mirsarai in Chittagong. In that upazila, with 372,257 voters, Enayet Hossain Noyon was elected chairman with 33,070 votes. His nearest rival, Sheikh Mohammad Ataur Rahman, received 20,767 votes.

According to the Election Commission's interpretation, the reason for the low voter turnout includes the rice harvesting season, inclement weather, lack of popular candidates, people leaving urban areas, and non-participation in voting by supporters of major political parties. Although these are cited as reasons, it does not dismiss the possibility that there are underlying factors contributing to this apparent indifference. The Election Commission's explanation does not fully address the root cause. While weather and paddy harvesting might affect some, the others rely on people's participation. However, the Election Commission's attempt to attribute the weather as a primary cause doesn't fully capture the essence, as there was no mention of rain on the day of the election. Even during the rice harvesting season, people have voted before, and there is always a holiday on the day of the election, especially when there is no holiday the next day.

The Election Commission also states that one of the reasons for the low voter turnout is the non-participation of the BNP. This is an unpopular truth that cannot be denied. Yes, not all or most of the BNP supporters or leaders would have won if they had participated in the election, but their absence from the election affects the party's morale. Even if the BNP did not participate in the election, no one from the recognized opposition parties participated either. Even though the national parties received the main opposition party's approval in the national parliament elections, they did not participate in the local government elections.

The Election Commission's failure to give any clear indication of the party's involvement in the election is significant. However, where are the Jatiyo party, the 14-party coalition, and the "king's party" that emerged suddenly during the last parliamentary elections? Even if the Jatiyo party received the approval of the chief opposition party in the national parliament, their existence is not assured at the local government level, as can be easily inferred from their participation in local government elections. The party's inability to stay in the government has been repeatedly demonstrated. The just-concluded Upazila Parishad elections have proven this once again.

In the first phase of the Upazila Parishad elections, most of the elected candidates were assumed to be supporters of the Awami League. However, the voter turnout rate in the local government elections was lower than in the parliamentary elections. Does this prove that the efforts of Awami League workers and candidates to attract voters have failed?

Despite talking to many individuals personally and encountering varying opinions, this is the nature of democratic process, to keep striving for consistency. Due to people becoming increasingly disinterested in voting, the threat of 'blind followers' coming close to the center of power will remain distant but persistent.

People need to be encouraged to return to voting, instilling them with confidence, equality, and a fair opportunity. Voting is a right, a democratic right; the awakening of this consciousness is essential. Communication and trust need to be built between the center and the periphery. If the environment of trust is not restored, people will continue to turn away from voting and democratic rights!

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