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25 February, 2021 10:08:30 PM

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Endemic electoral violence in local level of Bangladesh

Security of voters must be ensured to conduct a free, fair, and peaceful participatory election. However, in the different local elections, it has been found that violence against minority groups has taken place.
Md. Obaidullah
Endemic electoral violence in local level of Bangladesh

Electoral violence has become a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. It often occurs in the local and national elections.

Unquestionably, violence has been an integral part of Bangladeshi politics since its independence. It happens in favour of any political group to change or influence election results. It may occur in many forms and shapes; according to a study, electoral violence could be three types, for instance, physical, psychological, and structural violence.

Victims of violence are targeted by the opposite gang and it includes, rape, arson, riot; furthermore, most forms of electoral violence took place in Bangladesh before, during and after elections, such as burning down houses or vehicles of public or opponents, shooting out and killing people, partisan harassment by security agents, arrest, forceful dispersal of rallies or shooting, injuring or killing people, kidnapping and taking hostages, bombing infrastructure, forceful intervention and vote-rigging.

These kinds of violence are a grave threat to good governance in Bangladesh. At the local level, the governance system has divided into rural and urban government. Rural government includes unions, upazilas and zila parishads and urban government incorporates municipalities and city corporations.

Union parishad (UP) elections have been held nine times since the independence of the country, this year it will turn to ten. In addition, there has been more or less violence in every election. Massive violence took place in the UP elections held in 1987 during the dictatorial Ershad regime. About 100 people were killed in the one-day election. Besides, there were massive casualties in the 2003 elections under the BNP-Jamaat coalition government. The Democracy Watch, an electoral observation agency, reveals that in the 51-day election, 80 individuals lost their lives. The loss of 34 lives in the 2011 election was reported in numerous media. Shujon, a non-governmental organization, reports that 145 people have been killed in the 2016 UP election, which they claim is the most violent local election in the history of Bangladesh.

Now the question is why violence has been occurring in the local level election. Electoral violence may occur for a number of reasons. It occurs when the electoral process is considered as unfair, irresponsive, or corrupt that its political legitimacy is compromised and the parties concerned are motivated to go beyond the norms established to achieve their objective. The root causes of violence are the lust for power and to hold power for a long time. Furthermore, the absence of a level playing field, failure of administration, and weakness of the election commission are the reasons behind the electoral violence.

Another important factor is the political polarization in Bangladesh, which is split by two dominant political ideologies i.e. AL and BNP allies. In particular, no one trusts each other for conducting elections. This competition causes hostility between political parties, and another reason is the opposition parties' street politics as well as the village politics.

Security of voters must be ensured to conduct a free, fair, and peaceful participatory election. However, in the different local elections, it has been found that violence against minority groups has taken place. Therefore, it could be said that the government creates rooms for violence in the absence of sufficient protection during, before, and after elections.

Additionally, at the local level, some incidents are occurring nowadays, those who have been working for the party for a long time and also sacrificial leaders are not getting tickets or nominations for election for that party. Afterward, they have taken nomination independently and, in political terminology, those people are known as “rebel candidates”. Consequently, clashes continue between rebel candidates and party selected candidates. This is intraparty conflict.

Generally, law enforcement agencies have a major role to play in ensuring violent free elections. Election commission excessively is dependent on them. Nevertheless, the problem is that they are partly controlled by the ruling party and used to suppress the opposition.

There is a debate whether the major election management body, the election commission (EC), is working independently or not. Apparently, the election commission is an independent body, according to the constitution. The fact remains that, in exercise, the EC is not so autonomous because in most cases the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), including four commissioners, is assigned by the ruling government. The EC undoubtedly rely on the law enforcement agencies to conduct elections and be influenced by the government and the ruling political parties.

Electoral violence leads to ineffective local government. When representatives will become selected through violence instead of elected by people, they will not become accountable. Since the leaders and activists of the ruling party are not accountable to the people, they use the administration for political parties and individual interests. These problems are liable to put an end to citizens’ trust and satisfaction.

Local government bodies and grassroots elections are significant pillars of democracy in the state and society. Election irregularities, fraudulent and violence occur in many developing countries. However, we want a completely neutral and peaceful local election. With the intention of deterring electoral violence, an effective legal and administrative setup is required. To ensure good local government and violence-free local election, there is a need for political will, impartial administration, and autonomous election commission. Politics should be for the people, of the people, and by the people but not for the party. The administration must function for the safety of civilians rather than for the protection of criminals. The EC should make sure that electoral laws and regulations are enforced without political interference and ensure a level playing field. Civil society and electoral observation agencies can play a pivotal role in order to ensure a violence-free local election.

The writer is a student of the Department of Public Administration, University of Barishal, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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