BANGLADESH NEWSPAPERS

Jan 26, 2009

Upazilla election and stonewalling

Upazilla election and stonewalling realityMahmud ur Rahman ChoudhuryIn continuation of my last week's commentary, I wanted to write about something else but the Upazilla election came up and I was so caught up in it that I jumped out of bed at 3 AM on 23 January to write this piece. I hope it grabs you as much as it did me.The Upazilla elections are over, to the dissatisfaction of almost everyone, most of all the electorate who didn't turn up in any considerable numbers to vote. Chaos, violence, rigging, forgery, intimidation and hijacking of ballot boxes were significant enough to make news headlines, elicit protests and condemnation from the BNP and suspend voting in 6 Upazillas. Law-enforcing agencies supported by the Army, deployed for the purpose of ensuring security did not seem to have done much to check the intimidation and violence or to ensure security of voters. As was expected the AL supported candidates won well over 65 percent of the chairmanship and other seats with the BNP and others trailing well behind. It therefore, comes as no surprise that the AL spokesperson and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam expressed satisfaction over the course the Upazilla polling has taken. Addressing a press conference, right after the voting closed in the evening of 22 January, he said, "Our government provided all out cooperation to the EC for smooth holding of the election. Normalcy prevailed throughout the country. Law and order situation was very satisfactory" - this inspite of images, of near-empty polling centres and people fighting, splashed all over TV screens and newspapers. That the AL government, after all the much publicized big talks about "change", would stonewall realities comes as a frustrating surprise, particularly when the so long well-regarded AL spokesperson Syed Ashraful Islam attempts to justify the irregularities and violence by claiming that "…clashes and many untoward incidents were reported in past elections across the country also." Taking issue with the EC's dissatisfaction with the election, Syed Ashraf further added, "The election commission tried to depoliticize Bangladesh earlier. Election to the local government without political identity won't bring any good results…So far I know the EC has suspended polls of some 6 upazillas but no major untoward incidents have been reported till now." By invoking the past to stonewall the present Syed Ashraful Islam disregards the fact that people have so massively voted for the AL in the parliamentary election because it is exactly the past which the "people" do not want a repetition of. The point which Syed Ashraf and the AL fail to grasp is that nothing can be made to justify a single incident of violence, rigging, forgery, intimidation and suspension of voting because it deprives people of their most basic and fundamentally important right of being citizens of Bangladesh - that is, it prevents people from exercising their right to franchise in a free and fair manner. Don't Syed Ashraful Islam and the AL understand that it is not just voting in 6 Upazillas which was suspended; what was suspended was the right, of thousands of people, to be citizens. Stonewalling reality can be as bad as that. "Take away my right to vote and you deprive me of the right to be a citizen of Bangladesh" - if the AL flouts this and expects us all to believe in their justifications for flouting it, the AL is on a tack which within 2 years will take us again to another 1/11. So, where really is the "change" the AL has promised us to get our votes or was it just a chicanery, a fraud perpetuated on the Nation.