We're Live Bangla Friday, September 30, 2022

Banfladesh: EC's obstinacy, EVM and fair election

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An electronic voting machine (EVM)File photo

The Bangladesh Election Commission is hellbent on using Electronic Voting Machines in the forthcoming national election. Some parties are all in favour of the EVM, some have doubts, some are dead against it. But the election commission seems to have made up its mind. EVM is the way to a fair election, it contends.

Bangladesh Election Commission is a constitutional body. The main task of this organisation is to hold a fair election. The present commission led by Kazi Habibul Awal has been pursuing a free and fair election since its inception. As two of his predecessors, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad and KM Nurul Huda organised elections in 2014 and 2018 respectively, both of the elections were controversial.

The ruling Awami League led by prime minister Sheikh Hasina won the 2014-election boycotted by the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). A total of 153 candidates were elected unopposed while voting was held only in 147 constituencies. BNP joined the election in 2018 in which the ruling Awami League won the elections which were widely criticised as much of the voting took place at night before the day of voting. Although prime minister Shiekh Hasina in an interview with BBC on Sunday in London claimed that a fair election was held only during the ruling Awami League, election experts and people not involved in any party politics said the last two ones were failed elections.

After taking over charge in February 2022, being a head of a constitutional body, Kazi Habibul Awal at different occasions expressed his commitment to hold a free and fair election.

The chief election commissioner also said there is a crisis of trust in the election commission. This is one of the major problems. He has already taken a number of steps including holding dialogues with the political parties. Although BNP boycotted the dialogues, many political parties including the ruling Awami League joined the dialogue and gave their respective opinions.

Out of the 39 registered political parties, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and 10 others did not join the dialogue. Of the remaining parties, only four parties--Awami League, Workers Party, Samyabadi Dal, Ganotantri Party unequivocally supported the use of EVM in the 12th parliamentary election scheduled to be held in December 2023 or early in 2024. Most of the political parties cast doubt, mistrust and disbelief.

Although the election commission has no capacity to hold election in EVMs in half of the constituencies, Awami League demanded use of EVMs in all 300 constituencies.

During a dialogue, the Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said the EC, with a total of 150,000 devices, has a capacity of ensuring EVM in 31 per cent constituencies. He urged the commission to increase the number of devices ahead of the upcoming parliamentary polls.

On the contrary, from the beginning BNP has been casting doubt over the use of EVM, although the party boycotted the EC's dialogue saying it has no trust on the election commission.

In such a sharply divided situation, the election commission recently announced they would use EVMs at best in 150 constituencies.

It is not known whether the election commission is acting in accordance with the demand of ruling Awami League general secretary. It is evident that the election commission rejected the concerns of those who were against the use of EVM and who made an appeal not to spend too much money during the economic crisis while the government is taking various austerity measures to cope with the situation.    

The election commission on Monday finalised a Tk 87.11 billion (Tk 8,711 crore) project proposal to procure 200,000 Electronic Voting Machines (EVM).

During briefing media recently, replying newsmen, election commissioner Rasheda Sultana said, "Is it necessary to give importance to who wants EVM and who not? Doesn't the EC have that much freedom?"

Being a constitutional body, the EC must have that freedom, but it must have accountability to the people as the salaries and allowances of the election commission are paid by the tax payers' money. The election commission is displaying blatant stubbornness about using EVMs for a 'fair election', discarding the demand of most of the political parties and those who were against the utilization of huge amount of money when the country is reeling from economic crisis. But the EC must remember the failure of the previous two elections when most of the voters could not cast their votes. Those who become eligible to vote for the first time are particularly eager to vote to elect their leaders of choice. The EC must remember the road ahead is bumpy, they must not budge to hold a fair election!