BANGLADESH: Local Government elections further eroded people’s confidence in election

by Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar

Elections of 3,956 Union Parishad (UP), the lowest tier of the local governmental system in Bangladesh, held in six phases that were conducted few months ago. Serious allegations of mononoyan banijya (buying nominations for money), other irregularities and violence were raised about these elections. Nevertheless, our CEC claimed that UP elections this time were much better than anytime in the past (Jugantor, 5 June 2016). Is it really so?

Acceptability of elections must be judged against some standards. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide a set of yardsticks for ‘genuine’ elections: (1) all eligible voters could become voters; (2) those who wanted to become candidates could contest; (3) voters had alternative candidates before them and the elections were competitive; (4) those who wanted to vote could do so; and (5) the voting procedure was transparent, trustworthy and free of manipulations.

Faulty Electoral Roll: The electoral roll used in the recent UP elections was faulty. The 2008 electoral roll with photographs, which was considered the most accurate such roll ever, had more than 1.4 million female voters. This was because about a ten million of our citizens work outside the country, most of whom are male and many of them are not enrolled as voters. Nevertheless, the new voters, numbering nearly 4.7 million, added during updating of the electoral roll in 2014, had 12 percent more male voters than female. This ‘gender gap’ was caused by enumerators’ failure to go from house to house to enrol voters (Jutantor, 26 January 2015). In the latest updating of 2015, the gender gap was about 6 percent. It is thus clear that in the yearly updating of the electoral roll, women were under-enrolled as voters, which calls into question the very accuracy of the existing roll.

Prevention from Being Candidates: Allegations abound that — through arrests, filing cases and intimidation — potential opposition and rebel candidates were prevented from contesting in the recent UP elections. Many potential BNP candidates were on the run because of pending cases against them. Some were also in jail, which prevented them from filing nomination papers. Some others did not dare to become candidates because of fear of new cases and harassments. For these reasons, a big political party like BNP could not field chairmen candidates in 554 UPs. In addition, because of so-calld mononoyon banijya, which was widespread, many competent candidates, especially from the ruling party, could not contest.

Lack of Competitive Elections: Elections means choosing from alternatives. Thus, genuine elections require an adequate number of candidates, which has declined in the recent UP elections. In the UP elections of 2011, the average number of chairmen candidates per UP was nearly six, but this time it was reduced to little over four. In addition, in recent elections, 214 chairmen candidates were elected unopposed, which is a new record — further indicating lack of competition. This happened because of the party-based elections for chairmen.

Preventing Voters from Voting Freely: It has been widely alleged that voters could not freely and fearlessly vote in this recent UP elections. The media reported widespread use of booth capture, fake voting, ballot box stuffing, fraud in vote counting and the like to influence the electoral outcome. In many cases, the people responsible for conducting polls and the members of law enforcement agencies carried out such electoral offences. Irregularities were often committed openly and blatantly. In additional, in recent elections, nearly 150 people died and over 10,000 injured, which are new records. Many of the deceased and injured belonged to the ruling party. In some polling centres, ballots for chairmen were stamped openly, giving rise to one-sided results. As a result, in the 3,965 UPs where election results were declared – results were postponed in 123 UPs – the ruling party chairmen candidates won in 2,647 in Unions with overall 66.75 percent of votes cast. On the country, BNP chairmen candidates won only in 367 Unions with 9.25 percent of votes, raising serious questions about the reliability of the results.

Lack of Transparency and Credibility of the Electoral Process: Because of party-based elections, there were serious allegations of partisan behaviour against local administration and the law enforcement agencies. For example, after the first phase of elections, allegations were raised against the election officer and the office assistant of Bancharampur Upazila of Brahmanbaria district for both rejecting valid and accepting faulty nomination papers for money (Jugantor, 26 February 2016). A Kaler Kantha report of 27 March 2016 alleged that the law enforcement officers of Satkhira failed, defying the EC, to take actions against those who indulged in looting votes.

After the second phase of electon, the well-known poet, Mohan Raihan, wrote an open letter to the Hon’ble Prime Minister alleging fraud in vote counting in Khokshabari UP under Sirajganj district (Bangladesh Protidin, 18 April 2016). A headline of the 20th May 2016 issue of Kaler Kantha stated that even the deceased had voted in the election. Serious questions were also raised about the abnormally high voter turnout rate in recent elections.

More seriously, despite many allegations of violation of electoral codes of conduct and other wrongdoing, the EC failed to take actions in most cases, even though it had the power to do so. Instead, it advised the complainants to go to the election tribunal, rather than exerting its own authority and repossibility to redress the complaints. It should be pointed out that in Nur Hossain vs Nazrul Islam case [5BLD(AD)2000], the Appellate Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court gave the judgment that, in case of allegations of irregularities or even suspicion of irregularities, the Commission had the authority to cancel elections after investigation. The Commission’s avoiding its own responsibility to remedy the irregularities seriously calls into question the credibility of electoral process itself.

Based on the above criteria, it is clear that the recent UP elections were not free, fair and peaceful, hence not acceptable, In fact, the low standard set by the one-sided and controversial elections of January 5, 2006 and the subsequent local elections appeared to have continued in the recent UP elections. In terms of widespread use of so-called monomoyon banijya, violence and other irregularities, the quality of recent UP elections, however, reached a new low — further eroding people’s trust in the electoral process. It is also clear from the foregoing that the election is a long-term process, and the acceptability of election results does not depend on what happens on election-day alone. Validity of elections does not on depend solely on the proportion of centres in which elections were suspended or incidences of violence only on election-day.

Finally, despite being seriously tainted, the elections are now over and the UPs have been formed with new representatives. Now the government has the obligation to take the initiative to make the UPs effective by undertaking a bold policy of decentralisation to devolve power, authority, resources and autonomy to these bodies. The government must also take urgent steps to enhance their capacity and give them additional manpower.

*Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar is Secretary, SHUJAN: Citizens for Good governance, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dr. Majumdar can be contacted via email:

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-076-2016
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Institutional reform,