It comes as no surprise that the elections to 160 union councils and 11 municipal corporations, held in the first phase of the UP elections on September 20, were marred by violence and alleged electoral frauds. But perhaps what's worse, and even a bit surprising, is that 43 Awami League chairman candidates won uncontested, according to the Election Commission (EC).
This prompted Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar to ask whether we could call these unopposed winners "elected" at all. Given that they were the only candidates contesting for the positions, it cannot really be said that they were elected by the people; rather, they were—for all intents and purposes—selected by the ruling party.
The only opposition to the candidates fielded by the Awami League came from its own rebels, who surprisingly won a significant number of chairman seats. Is that a sign of the lack of popularity enjoyed by the ruling party? The truth is, we might never know through such elections, where hardly any other party—apart from those associated or formerly associated with the ruling party—participates. What is certain, however, is that such elections are creating a clear apathy among voters which, according to the election commissioner, is an ominous sign for democracy.
For a multi-party democratic system, participation of many parties is a prerequisite, said the commissioner. The fact that we have now had several elections in which only one party has contested—which completely defeats the purpose of an election—is a clear sign that our democracy right now is in a severe crisis. And for it to have any chance of overcoming this crisis, changes have to be made in the current electoral system, based on a consensus among all political parties. That, however, seems to be miles away at the moment.
Unfortunately, the worst sufferer of such a biased attitude has been the Election Commission (EC). With every successive government, the commission has been made more blatantly partisan. It is no wonder that one of the reasons for the decay of democracy in Bangladesh is the loss of people's trust in the electoral system.With every election, fewer and fewer people have exercised their right to choose their representatives, knowing that their votes matter little, the result being a foregone conclusion. The turnout in local elections-the most recent of them held only a few days ago-testifies to our views.
Can a nation that suffered unimaginable losses in terms of human lives-to establish the right and freedom to choose their own representatives and have them run their own affairs, and not by those who defile and distort the system to "get elected"-countenance such a state of affairs? We certainly do not want a repetition of the 2018 general election, nor the dozens of local elections held since then.