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UP Election 2016 : Back to Square One

April 1, 2016

First round of Union Parishad elections has been marred by unprecedented scale of violence. Violent elections, held in 712 Union Parishads, claimed 27 lives and injured thousands more across Bangladesh.

Press and watch bodies noted widespread irregularities: ballot box hijacking, casting fake votes, beating opposition activists and officials in charge of polling centers, arson attack, attack on minority communities etc. Election Commission postponed elections in 65 centers due to violence. Worst victim of electoral violence is the Dhanisafa union of Mathbaria Upazila in Pirojpur. Five persons were succumbed to death there after security forces had opened fire at mob. All of them were ruling party activists. Border Guards Bangladesh’s chief in a press conference said that BGB had to shoot at the mob in the face of uncontrollable situation while rescuing a stranded presiding officer. The murder of an independent UP chairman , Shanti Priyo Tripura, in Banderbans also drew media attention. He was also a member of Parbatya Chattyagram Jana Sanhati Samiti (PCJSS) , a group that is struggling for establishing rights of indigenous people in Chittagong Hill Tracts and cut a peace deal with government back in 1998. Opprobrium heaped on UPDF, a separatist group that opposes the peace deal.

A local NGO SHUJAN that deals with governance issue, held a press conference and set forth its observations on the first round of UP polls. In a written statement it revealed that the UP polls failed to meet the criteria for fair election set by International Convent on Civil and Political Rights. In many Union Parishads AL rebel candidates and BNP-backed candidates faced all kinds of troubles from the ruling party and failed to submit their nomination papers due to obstructions and brow-beatings.

And those who had submitted the nomination papers were forced to withdraw their papers as the ruling party members threatened them to meet severe consequences in case of failure to comply. SHUJAN also noted uncontested win in 54 UPs and absence of BNP-backed candidates in 121 UPs.

SHUJAN observed that during the 80s and 90s violence was part and parcel of such elections. During the period between 2008 and 2013, situations were improved. In recent elections, however, situation has degenerated. It described the ongoing violence in UP polls as “protracted violence”.

Violence in UP Election Since 1992

Violence in UP Election Since 1992

The unprecedented number of death heralds a bloody and messy next round. Independent observers and watch bodies are blaming EC, already discredited for its role in earlier elections, for the spiral of violence.

Comparing death tolls of earlier elections we can easily see electoral violence related deaths rose in subsequent elections. Many are arguing that figures of death could have been lowered if the government had deployed troops with formidable authority across the country prior to election. In earlier elections, law-enforcing agencies used to carry out drive against illegal small arms that flooded the country ahead of election and professional criminals in a bid to contain electoral violence. Such drive was not seen ahead of this election.

UP Election Death Toll Since 1992

UP Election Death Toll Since 1992

For local level politicians, this election is more than an election. As we are living in a political atmosphere of “winner takes all” , winning this election is paramount to the survival of their political career. A win could give them unrestrained command over local resources and a license to loot public resources allocated for development projects.

For this reason, more BNP-Jamaat activists switched side and joined the ruling party and rebel candidates refused to step aside despite stern warnings from central party leaders.

All the parties and the state endorsed organized violence in dealing with rivals and in carrying out assigned task. So, violence has become part of our “new normal” everyday life. Hence it spread to grass root level and disturbed the tranquil and mundane country life in rural areas, which are not an incubator of anger and hatred like the urban areas.

UP election violence only accentuated absence of strong democratic institutions and rule of an authoritarian regime. To have a firm footing at grass root level, government picked up the weapon of unwarranted hooliganism and allowed the malpractices of governance–like the nomination transaction observed by SHUJAN—to spread in rural areas. This election has already dealt a heavy blow to the fragile democratic process that is striving to back on track.

Gone were the peaceful days. Lost were the lessons of tolerance developed from the democratic practices. Buried were the commitments to build a democratic society. Winner is the Gresham’s law.

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From → Analysis

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