555Published on May 3, 2015
Before the city corporation elections in Dhaka and Chittagong, BNP was desperate – not to win the race but to quit midway through the voting. Afraid to test their popularity due to the 93 days of arson campaign on innocent people, they were on the lookout for any chance to make the democratic process questionable and snatch people’s right to franchise.
Their ploy was revealed like daylight through some media reports with leaked phone conversations of influential BNP leaders . In one of the conversations, recorded two days prior to the election, an influential BNP leader Nazrul Islam Khan was heard forbidding any voting campaign as they would ‘boycott the election’.
Yet there is a world of differences between what they said on and off the record. In a sheer contrast to their phone conversations, they alleged ‘widespread rigging’ as their reason to quit.
But in reality, they violated the electoral code of conduct, declaring to quit when the voting was half done. They nominated a fugitive, accused murderer (in several cases) as a mayor candidate. There was a noticeable absence of polling agents. They resorted to drastic sloppiness while picking candidates.
In fact, it is clear that the evil ploy was not on the part of the government but themselves. Let us count one by one.
Not a legal withdrawal
It sounded like a bolt out of the blue when BNP leader Moudud Ahmed at a press conference declared their decision to withdraw from the election. It was a time the voting was half done. Convention dictates a candidate or party may quit before the election starts. All the names and symbols on the ballot cannot be erased. Still what BNP did was a violation of law and a slap on democracy.
Lowest ever irregularities
In only 2% polling centers took place clashes and irregularities, according to the Election Working Group. It clearly means that at around 98% polling centers people voted without any interruption and in a free manner. Moreover, the Election Commission has cancelled 4.5% of the cast votes due to irregularities, in line with the 2%-5% irregularities reported. The Awami League backed Mayors bagged 15%-25% votes more than their close contestants. So all the allegations, even if proved to be true, couldn’t make any difference.
Noticeable absence of polling agents
A contestant can appoint a polling agent to watch out for cheating, says electoral law. The country’s largest circulated English daily, the Daily Star, quoted a polling agent of BNP's Dhaka North mayoral hopeful Tabith Awal, as saying, “I was not prepared at all. However, I agreed to take up the job. This clearly indicates that the BNP high-ups did not assign responsible persons to look after the pre-voting formalities.” Even the newspaper found some BNP men were seeking permission for assigning polling agents around 8:00am, just when the poll began, which is supposed to be done last night before or earlier on the day.
Sloppiness in selecting candidates
BNP’s callousness towards the election was also noticed when its Dhaka North candidate Abdul Awal Mintoo made a silly mistake while submitting his nomination papers to contest the Dhaka North mayoral election. Mintoo's disqualification apparently paved the way for candidacy of his 36-year-old son Tabith, an unknown face in politics. A section of BNP men termed Mintoo's mistake a deliberate act to let his son join the race.
Accused murderer got party support
Mirza Abbas got the party backing as Dhaka South's mayoral candidate who was accused in number of cases. He didn't dare to appear before public to carry out his electioneering apparently for fear of arrest.
BNP always quits at the face of defeat
In last five years, BNP has set a trend of quitting the election before or after its start. No less than 19 times did it boycott polls including the last parliamentary election. Every time they came up with the allegation of a "biased election commission". Interestingly under the same election commission, in last five years, they took part in a number of upazila elections and five city corporation elections and gained a significant lead. Then, they did not raise any question about the EC. So it appears that only when it fears the test of public choice they choose to quit to cover up their weakness.
Another sheer mockery with democracy
That decision to pull out from the race has put in another black veil in the country’s democracy. Let’s not forget when the party boycotted the 11th parliamentary election, it resorted to 92 days of blockade, strike, introduced the culture of grisly petrol bombs, burnt 101 innocents alive, injured thousands and torched over thousands vehicles.
Sets a bad example to the voters
By suddenly boycotting the elections half-way through it, Begum Zia deprived the voters of their right to choose their candidates. She retreated from the war partway of it. The decision has shaken the faith of our citizens. The youngsters were enthusiastic about their first-time vote. But all went awry when BNP suddenly decides to quit the race.
Mayor candidates compelled to quit the race
It appeared to be a shock for the BNP candidates as they were asked to quit in the midway. Take the case of Tabith Awal, BNP backed DCC south candidate. He cast his vote in the morning. When BNP leader Barrister Maudud asked him to quit the race, Tabith replied, "I need half an hour time to think." Intriguingly, M Manjur Alam, Chittagong city corporation BNP-backed candidate, gave his statement to boycott the election with his eyes overflowing with tears and voice choked with emotion.
It could be well be a farewell to the politics of violence and arson undertaken by BNP. It could be an end to their undemocratic practices like blockade and strikes. At least, people expected so when they returned to election. But what they did in the midway was a violation of electoral code of conduct and a slap on democracy. They quit, not Bangladesh.