Violence at Record Level in Local Voting in Bangladesh

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2016.05.27
Dhaka
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160527-BD-voter-1000.jpg A Bangladeshi resident wanting to vote in the general election is attacked in a field in Rajshahi, Jan. 5, 2014.
AFP

Unprecedented bloodshed has marred Bangladesh’s first endeavor at allowing political parties to contest seats in elections for Union Parishads, the lowest tier of local government, observers say.

Since staggered voting got under way in late March in more than 4,000 UPs that dot the country, 101 people have been killed and more than 8,000 have been hurt in violence associated with the polls through its first four phases, said Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SUJON), a Bangladeshi poll-monitoring group.

The polls are not yet over and people are bracing for the possibility of more violence. More than 10.1 million voters in 720 UPs are expected to cast ballots in the next round, set for Saturday in 44 districts. The sixth and final round will take place a week later, on June 4.

“This is the most violent UP elections in the country’s history,” Majumder told BenarNews.

Until last year, UP elections were touted as non-partisan contests in which candidates ran for local office by themselves and not under a party’s banner. Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party scrapped a provision in the electoral law and removed that non-partisan layer, which opened the way for parties to contest the UP polls.

According to Majumder, this move to bring parties into the fray of UP politics has contributed to violence at the polls, and exposed the deep and bitter divisions between the ruling party and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party.

“Making the UP polls a political election has brought the Awami League-BNP division to the remotest corner of the society. The grassroots people have been fighting among themselves for the parties. This cycle of violence is hard to break unless the government reverses the decision and restores the non-party UP polls,” Majumder said.

In addition to the 101 deaths reported by SUJON through Thursday, two more people were killed in poll-related violence in the southwestern districts of Kushtia and Narail on Friday, according to media reports.

This year’s Union Parishad polls are the deadliest since 1988 when 88 people were killed in violence linked with the voting, SUJON said.

SUJON said no casualty was reported in the UP elections in 1973, 1977, 1983 and 1992.

In 1997 UP polls, 31 people were killed, while 23 people lost their lives in 2003. The last 2011 UP polls saw 10 deaths in poll-related violence.

Awami out in front

BNP officials are accusing the ruling party of fomenting the violence around this year’s elections, which the Awami League has dominated through the first four rounds. So far, UP candidates fielded by the ruling party have won 1,836 UP chairmen seats compared with 243 chairmen seats for the BNP, according to the country’s Election Commission.

“The government made the non-partisan UP a political election to capture the local government bodies through violence, rigging and other malpractices. The previous four phases of the UP polls give us that impression,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the BNP’s policy-making standing committee, told BenarNews.

Atiur Rahman Atik, Awami’s party whip in parliament, refuted the allegations.

“Look at the results of the elections in the last four spells. The voters have rejected the BNP and other opposition,” Atik told BenarNews.

Rahman of the BNP also accused the Election Commission of remaining silent and allowing voter-intimidation, ballot-tampering and theft to take place.

“If people were allowed to vote freely, the BNP would sweep the polls,” Mir Mohammad Nasir Uddin, a senior BNP leader and former civil aviation minister, told a news conference in Chittagong on Friday.

In response to the criticism, Election Commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman told BenarNews, “We can only instruct and suggest that the law enforcers maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the polling centers, but what else can we do in case they do not execute the instructions?”

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