Prof Dr Pran Gopal Datta is an accomplished person. He is a renowned physician. He was vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) for two terms. He helps poor and destitute people. He provides insolvent people with tree treatment. He is a politically conscious person. He never deviated from the spirit of liberation war and ideals of Bangabandhu. He was one of the physicians of Sheikh Hasina during the 1/11 critical time of the country. Like many others, I was delighted to see him nominated by Awami League to contest Cumilla-7 by-election. People like him should participate in politics. It is necessary to nominate such people so that they can serve the country as a public representative.
As lawmaker from Cumilla-7 constituency Prof Ali Ashraf died, the seat fell vacant. BNP did not contest the polls. It was important for Awami League to nominate a candidate for the by-polls. Prof Ali Ashraf’s son Muntakim Ashraf was aspirant for nomination. People were curious to see whether the party nominates a nationally-renowned person or successor of a lawmaker. President of Awami League and its Nomination Board Sheikh Hasina showed political wisdom and prudence again in nominating candidate. At the nomination board meeting on September 11, she said the children of the lawmakers will have to create their position in the politics through competition and struggle. The nomination of Dr Pran Gopal Datta is a significant incident in the country’s political history. Sheikh Hasina has preferred politics of quality to politics of inheritance.
People of Cumilla-7 constituency have failed to welcome Dr Pran Gopal by casting their votes. The country saw the same vote-less elections in 160 Union Parishads on September 20. Chairmen to 45 UPs out of 160 were elected without vote. Union Parishad is smallest unit of democratic governance system. Becoming a UP chairman without election is unacceptable and unfortunate. Many non-political persons contest the UP polls. The last disease of Bangladesh’s electoral system is the vote-less election. If anybody gets nomination from the ruling party, s/he hopes to be elected without a polls contest. Such a nominated person tries to put other candidates out of the race through various strategies. People see vote casting if and when candidates are determined to contest the election. But people lose interest in casting votes. Any election without vote is detrimental to democracy. The colour of votes has faded away. It is taken for granted that an Awami League candidate will be victorious. Some places see votes for the sake of votes.
In many cases, candidates are elected uncontested. Does a person elected without a poll contest realise the disastrous effect? Article 122 (1) of the Constitution reads: “The elections to Parliament shall be on the basis of adult franchise.” A question travels the mind as to whether becoming a lawmaker without election is legal. It is a constitutional debate. It is not my subject. Rather, I am interested to know whether a person elected without votes of the people is ashamed or not. The relation between candidate and voters is like fevicol. Now, candidates would like to be distant from voters. The disease is becoming epidemic. People of the country scarified a lot for establishing their voting rights. They waged movement and laid down lives. Such people are mostly exploited by the sham election. The vote-less election is the latest example of exploitation.
The undemocratic, illegal and autocratic rulers damaged the electoral system in their own interest. Bangabandhu along with most of his family members were killed in 1975. In the post-75 changeover, Ziaur Rahman arranged “Yes-No” farcical polls. The election officials showed vote casting above 100 percent to satisfy Ziaur Rahman. On May 30 in 1977, vote casting was 98.80 percent. In his book “President Zia of Bangladesh: A Political Biography”, late journalist Mahfuz Ullah said it was incredible and an act of overenthusiastic people. Mahfuz Ullah quoted M Saifur Rahman in this regard (page-71). Another sham election was held by Zia in 1979. The second parliamentary polls were held on February 18, 1979. Wearing army dress, Ziaur Rahman took part in the election campaign. He announced that Awami League would not be allowed to get more than 40 seats. AL was divided at that time. One faction was led by Malek Ukil and the other by Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury. Malek’s faction was the original Awami League. His faction contested the election with “boat symbol” while Mizan’s faction got “ladder symbol”. The Malek faction nominated candidates to contest the polls in 295 seats. Of them, 39 candidates became victorious. The Mizan faction nominated candidates in 184 constituencies and two of them won the polls. It was a ploy to cheat with people. After the demise of Ziaur Rahman, the country saw another stealing of voting rights in the name of the presidential polls. That time, Awami League started a new journey. On May 17, 1981, Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina returned to the country to save the party. BNP was facing an internal conflict after the death of Zia. BNP nominated vice-president and Justice Abdus Sattar for the post of president. But he was not constitutionally unfit to contest polls. BNP amended the constitution to make him candidate. Awami League picked Dr Kamal Hossain for the post. It was an election tainted with dacoity and vote rigging. The administrative officials sealed the ballot papers in favour of BNP candidates under the police protection. (Source: Daily Sangbad, Nov 16, 1981)
Justice Abdus Sattar became president through vote rigging. However, he could not prolong his tenure. Within four months, the then army chief came to the stage. Following footprint, he started to deliver speech in radio and television. Like Zia, Ershad was behind the scene at the outset of the drama. Justice Ahsanuddin Chowdhury was president in the back and white. Both Zia and Ershad said, “I am a soldier and not connected to the politics. I will return to barracks.” Ershad also floated a political party wearing combat dress. On May 7, 1986, he arranged polls. He invented a new formula of vote rigging named “media coup”. The election sparked widespread controversies.
Although all oppositions were supposed to contest the polls, BNP backtracked. Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and some other parties threatened to boycott and resist the election. The 15-party alliance was dismantled. An eight-party alliance led by Sheikh Hasina made much enthusiasm among voters. Awami League was leading the polls count announced by radio and TV. In a midnight conspiracy, result announcement was stopped to block Awami League’s victory. A grave situation followed. The Election Commission was forced to make a fake result sheet. After 11 days, such results were announced.
In 1986, Ershad dissolved the parliament following mass a movement against his regime. On March 3, 1988, Ershad arranged another sham election and entertained the nation. Awami League, BNP and other parties boycotted such an election. The Combined Opposition Party (COP) led by ASM Abdur Rab was formed. Ershad patronised such a coalition with non-existent parties. Rab achieved a title as “domestic” opposition leader by participating in the polls. There was no vote casting in the 1988 election. The EC prepared an imaginative result-sheet. Later, Awami League pressed for an election-time caretaker government. The party prepared format of such a CG. A mass movement resulted in the fall of the Ershad regime. The country saw first to see election under the CG in 1991 with a hope of establishing people’s voting rights. The slogan of the people was: “I will cast my vote for whomever I like.” After coming to power, BNP chief Khaleda Zia rejoiced stealing voting rights of the citizens. The much-talked-about Magura and Mirpur by-polls tarnished the image of the country and tainted the country’s political history. The people again waged a movement demanding a polls-time interim government. BNP was adamant to cling to power ignoring the movement and arranged a sham election on February 15, 1996. Following the example of her husband, Khaleda Zia prepared a fake result sheet. The whole nation boycotted the election and rejected the results.
The February 15 election allowed Khaleda Zia’s regime to be short-lived. She was bound to introduce the CG system which conducted the parliamentary polls in 1996 and 2001. The elections under the caretaker government also saw some incidents of rigging and partiality but the people could cast their votes. The public expectations were reflected in the polls results.
After the polls victory in 2001, BNP again started a desperate bid to cling to power sine die, putting democratic and electoral system at stake. BNP and its alliance Jamaat hatched conspiracy to damage Awami League. Instead of contesting Awami League, they adopted a dirty path of physical and armed attack. After announcement of polls results on October 1, the cadres of the BNP and Jamaat let loose violence and swopped on Awami League leaders and activists. They committed murder, rape, looting and arson attack. The cadres of the parties started an onslaught to eliminate minority community. As part of the agenda, renowned AL leaders like Shah AMS Kibria and Ahsan Ullah Master were killed. They made a master plan to eliminate Sheikh Hasina and orchestrated grenade attack on August 21, 2004. In a miracle, Awami League president and the then leader of the opposition Sheikh Hasina survived the attack. BNP had two plans—one destroying Awami League and the other forming CG with loyal people. It targeted the former BNP leader KM Hasan who became apex court judge. BNP-Jamaat coalition government amended constitution to extend retirement of the chief justice purporting to appoint Hasan as chief of the CG. They put loyal people in the EC and updated voter list with inclusion of 1.5 crore of fake voters. The whole administration was recast with BNP-Jamaat minded officials. General Moeen U Ahmed was made army chief superseding 10 senior officials. But all preparations went in vain. The 1/11 changeover foiled all design. After two years of army-backed CG, people became victorious. The election in December 2008 is a milestone in the history of Bangladesh’s democracy. I compare the election with that of 1970, marking reflection of spontaneous choice of representatives by the common people. Bangladesh started its journey towards democracy.
The caretaker government system was controversial due to dirty game of BNP and ceased to exist. Scrapping the CG was inevitable. The Supreme Court declared CG untra-vires to the Constitution. The challenge of holding a fair, impartial and credible election is vested on political parties and government. Before parliamentary polls in 2014, the country saw election to five city corporations. The city polls results were marked by victory of BNP candidates. Prior to that election, Awami League government proposed an election-time interim government participated by representatives of all political parties. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia to a tea-party at her official residence Ganabhaban. But BNP boycotted the 2014 parliamentary election. Many leaders of BNP do not know the reasons for boycotting the polls.
In 2018, all political parties except BNP took part in election. BNP was organisationally ravaged. Although the election was free and fair, poll victory of Awami League was fixed. People of the country know that BNP boycotted the election. Yet some people putting question about credibility of the election. Are they well-wishers of Awami League? People are curious to know the reasons behind atrocities of the bureaucrats now. Casting vote is fundamental right of the people. The more people will franchise, the more democracy will be strengthened. An unelected person is not public representative.
The writer is an executive director of Poriprekkhit
Email: [email protected]
Translated by Firoz Al Mamun