Violence in local government elections in Bangladesh seems to have become a common occurrence. Violence erupted in the first round of union council elections, when five people were killed, and in the second round, 27 people were killed, raising concerns among the people and creating a kind of unease over the election.
In the face of electoral violence, the CEC has said that it is not possible to stop electoral violence by guarding, nor is it possible to stop union council violence by guarding houses. The CSE has come up with a new formula to curb violence and that formula is that those involved in the election must maintain tolerance and conduct the election in a fair manner. Assuming that the CEC has given the statement of responsibility but it is not possible to run the election process by word of mouth or request, it requires strict action and strategic position.
Elections are a sensitive issue where the issue of victory or defeat is deeply intertwined and no candidate wants to be easily defeated in an election. Some candidates may try to snatch victory in the elections by force and that is why the Election Commission has to take a very strict, neutral and firm position. The Election Commission is empowered to conduct any kind of election in a fair, beautiful and free manner and by exercising this power the Election Commission can present a beautiful election as a whole.
According to the CEC, the reason behind the violence in the Union Council elections is that most of the violence is due to previous hostilities and local conflicts. Since the Election Commission is aware of the reasons behind these conflicts, doubts and questions have arisen in the minds of the people as to why the Election Commission is not taking appropriate action accordingly. CEC claims that law enforcement is adequately deployed in each of the centres, but that the violence is invisible to law enforcement, making it impossible to control it.
Experts say the escalation of violence and bloodshed over the union council elections is worrying and is destroying the culture of elections and at the same time questioning the image of elections in the international arena. There was a time when there was no such thing as violence in the Union Parishad elections but today violence seems to have become a common occurrence in these UP elections. It is the constitutional duty of the Election Commission to conduct a peaceful election in any local or national election and the Election Commission cannot shirk its responsibility if there is any violence in such elections.
The Election Commission has urged the candidates to abide by the Code of Conduct. If the candidates violate the Code of Conduct, the Commission may take stern action as they have been given the power to do so but questions have been raised in the minds of the public and experts as to whether the role of the commission in controlling the code of conduct for election candidates is on the right track. Experts believe that it is the responsibility of the commission to ensure fair elections and if that is not the case then it is the responsibility of the commission. The Commission has a number of options at its disposal to end electoral violence and if one option fails then other options can be implemented by the Commission and in this case the goodwill of the Commission is paramount.
Local government elections were held in a very festive atmosphere and people voted spontaneously but because of this violence people no longer dare to go to the polls. Electoral violence and bloodshed are creating panic among the common people and creating a crisis of confidence in the Election Commission and this is not a good sign at all but it may have a negative impact on the upcoming elections. Experts say that in case of election violence, the judicial process should be expedited and made more effective.
Violence erupted after the 2001 election, and people still do not forget it, especially when the level of violence against minorities was so high. In many cases, there is a lack of accurate data on the violence that occurs during elections and as a result, it is not possible to bring the violence to justice. The main targets of electoral violence are minorities and the weak. Violence erupted during the 2014 election, and there were incidents of bus fires and petrol bombings before and after the 2014 election.
However, the Election Commission may compel the person participating in the election to abide by the Code of Conduct and the local administration and law enforcement forces may abide by the instructions of the Election Commission during the election. The commission has been given a wide range of powers to conduct fair and peaceful elections but it needs the firmness of the commission and a neutral mindset and courage to exercise that power. The Election Commission is an independent and constitutional body and they are constitutionally obliged to give the gift of healthy and beautiful elections by oath.
Many local government and national elections were held from 2008 to 2013, but these elections did not result in any violence or casualties. These elections have been recognized as fair, free and fair elections and have been made possible by the impartial and courageous steps taken by the Election Commission, experts believe. Experts say that if in the past it was possible to give such a beautiful election gift, then why it is not possible now, where is the fault, now it is necessary to find out and remedy accordingly.
To prevent violence and ensure a peaceful election, the Election Commission can use the police, the BDR, even the army if necessary, and they have that power. The Election Commission has been given a lot of powers and with those powers it is not impossible for the Election Commission to stop the violence but in this case the government along with the law enforcement agencies must give full cooperation. Local and grassroots elections are an important pillar of democracy in the state and society. Elections in developing countries are more or less rigged, but the recent election violence in Bangladesh has taken on a different form, creating a sense of unease and anxiety among the people.
There are many challenges and adversities in conducting free and fair local government elections and the Election Commission has to tackle them with tact, intelligence and even timely use of force. There is an issue of local influence in grassroots elections and due to which there is a risk of violence so the Election Commission has to go to the field with prior preparation. Union council elections are being held step by step to make it peaceful and neutral but the situation is deteriorating day by day and voting is being postponed and canceled in many centers. There have been a number of unjust and unpleasant incidents, including the snatching of ballot boxes from polling stations and the obstruction of voters from entering the polling stations.
The Election Commission's strong position and a tolerant attitude among the political parties are essential for the gift of peaceful elections, but in both cases there is a deficit, experts say. Citizens expect local elections to be held in a festive atmosphere, but the kind of violence that is taking place will be a threat to democracy and at the same time an ominous sign for the forthcoming elections. Electoral culture must be free of violence if there is political commitment and goodwill and at the same time strong position of the commission.
It is true that the Election Commission has a lot of power to make a fair election, but it is difficult for the Election Commission alone to ever present a beautiful election. If the organs on which the Election Commission relies for fair elections co-operate properly then there should be no impediment to fair elections.
There is no substitute for fair elections in order to establish peace in a democratic country but sadly in recent times there is a growing tendency among many candidates to think about how to get elected or win without voting.
Political parties, along with the Election Commission, have a huge role to play in ensuring fair elections. Articles 118 to 126 of the Constitution describe the various powers of the Election Commission, their functions and their objectives and policies. According to these articles of the constitution, the Election Commission will be completely independent and neutral in discharging its duties. As an independent body, the Election Commission is constitutionally obligated by oath to ensure fair and impartial elections at all levels. The Election Commission is a body with which all the political parties have a direct and indirect bond and with the sincerity of the political parties the Commission can lead the way for fair elections.
The Election Commission is constitutionally responsible for preparing the equal ground for elections and ensuring the safety of voters. Various studies have shown that the Election Commission of Bangladesh is independent and much stronger in terms of law, but the people are skeptical about the extent to which the Election Commission is able to function independently. A nation can never expect a violent election under an independent, neutral and powerful commission. Twelve Election Commissions have been formed in the country and some of them have conducted elections very efficiently and they have been free from violence. Elections will be held at the national level in 2023 and in that election we as an independent nation do not want or expect to see violence.
Some researchers believe that if local elections had been held in the previous system without party symbols, such violence would not have spread. During the election, one side becomes desperate to oust its opponent and this kind of violence spreads more rapidly. The Election Commission must act as a real catalyst and referee, and such violence can be stopped.
However, if the Election Commission fails to give the gift of a non-violent and peaceful election, the spirit of the Liberation War and the spirit of democracy will soon be lost.
The writer is a regular contributor to The Independent.