The manner in which the elections to the Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) were conducted on Monday is deeply disturbing for citizens. The atmosphere for a free and happy exercise of opinion through the vote for students of the university that should have been there was marred early on with the discovery of irregularities at Bangladesh-Kuwait Maitree Hall.
That was followed by protests from students at Ruqayyah Hall about irregularities in voting at their hall, which led to a suspension of voting for a few hours before the exercise resumed. At other halls, students were compelled to wait in long, unmoving queues before they could vote. Many of these students, unable to understand the cause for the slow process of voting, in the end turned back without casting their votes.
These are not unproven allegations by any means but are a picture of the reality as it was observed on the ground on Monday. But, yes, if allegations are to be taken into account, there are all the reports of Chhatra League activists stationing themselves before the polling centres and checking the identities of students turning up to vote.
That was not a job for the Chhatra League or indeed for any student organization because there were all the polling officials deputed by the university authorities inside the voting centres whose responsibility was to check such identities.
It should have been for the Vice Chancellor of the university to ensure that stern action was taken to ensure that all student voters, the number being 43,000, were able to exercise their ballot in electing a student body nearly three decades after the last DUCSU body was elected in 1990.
It is unfortunate that the DU administration adopted a pusillanimous attitude to all such realities and did not seem to be worried about the fact that student organizations other than the Chhatra League were present on the scene.
Could one then not suggest that an atmosphere of intimidation was in the air, that those who were inclined to cast their votes for candidates from other organizations were simply being warned to keep away from the whole exercise?
It has been calculated that on average, students who entered the voting centres each spent between eight and 23 minutes before re-emerging from the centres. A logical question arises here: where was the necessity for a student to spend such a long time inside the voting centres?
Again, were these prolonged spells of individual voting a deliberate ploy to discourage others who were in the queues outside waiting impatiently to exercise their right of vote? And who will explain the fact that no serial numbers were there on the ballot papers, making the voting an even more of a questionable happening?
The DUCSU elections have not enhanced the image of the Vice Chancellor and the administration he presides over. When as many as eight teachers of the university publicly refer to the irregularities they noticed on the day, the VC has much explaining to do. He has rejected calls for a new election to DUCSU through the simple statement that such an exercise is not possible since an election has already taken place.
He has clearly ignored everything that went wrong on Monday. The irony in the situation is that while student organizations opposed to the Chhatra League have demanded his resignation, the Chhatra League too has been calling for his resignation over what it calls irregularities resorted to during the voting.
The DUCSU elections should have been a cause for celebration for students and for the nation as a whole. They have, to our intense regret, turned out to be a fresh new cause for agitation on the campus. One will wait to see how the Vice Chancellor handles the situation, if at all he can do it. It is a set of circumstances where the government might need to come in for the good reason that discontent on the campus is what the nation cannot afford.
A university is a fount of liberal ideas, a springboard of new thoughts arising to add substance to secular ideals. When it becomes tainted, when its heritage is undermined by questionable acts, collective depression takes over.
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