Speaking at the Boithoki, Kazi Maruful Islam, a professor of development studies at Dhaka University and an independent election observer, said: “The prerequisite for a fair election is to make sure voters cast their ballots freely. I visited many polling stations in Khulna and saw the voter turnout was good. Voters faced some obstacles at some stations, but no major incident took place.”
He, however, added that there was a lot for the Election Commission to learn from the Khulna city polls.
“The Election Commission failed to properly play its role in the Khulna city election. Therefore, the Commission has to be strengthened and its capacity increased. And the police must work impartially.”
Dr Abdul Alim, director of Election Working Group, said: “In recent times, elections to local government bodies were held in a largely free and participatory manner... But, candidates in Khulna entered polling centres with their groups of activists and supporters, which is not legal as per the electoral law.”
Whether it is a local or a parliamentary election, Election Commission needs to play a proactive role, and political parties ought to assist the Commission in discharging its responsibilities, he stressed.
Ashish Saikat, chief news editor at Independent TV, said: “There had been a tense situation in Khulna city, even until the polling day. But it was seen on the polling day that ballots were cast in a festive mood.”
He, however, added that the Election Commission had failed to fully ensure a level playing field for contestants.
BNP repeatedly raised allegations that activists and supporters of their candidates were facing harassment by police. As the Commission failed to take any actions to address their concerns, they had to move the court. So, there were questions about the role Election Commission played during the election.
AL revamps the electoral system
Expressing his views at the roundtable, Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel, organizing secretary of ruling Awami League, claimed that the current Awami League-led government had reformed the entire electoral system.
“When BNP was in power, 20 million voters were not allowed to cast their ballots. After coming to power, our party overhauled the electoral system,” Mohibul said.
“...there were a few sporadic incidents [during the Khulna city polls]. BNP leaders tried to exaggerate them.”
The Election Commission has been properly performing their duties, he said, urging BNP to come forward to help it improve its performance.
BNP Organizing Secretary Shama Obaed alleged that the authorities had failed to ensure a level-playing field in Khulna.
“I had been in Khulna during the polls. I saw how police arrest and harass our leaders and activists, while supporters of the ruling party’s candidate were carried out their campaigns without any hindrance. Different media outlets showed how ballot boxes were stuffed with fake votes,” she said.
“Our secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir informed the chief election commissioner about the irregularities, but he did not take into consideration out complaints.”
The BNP leader added: “Why and how is the ballot of a voter cast even before he or she reaches the polling centre? Let people exercise their franchise.”
Bangla Tribune Head of News Harun-ur-Rashid said: “Arrest and warrant are a common matter across the country. But, electoral processes are hindered when people allied with certain political parties arrested during an election. Many were arrested in Khulna despite a court order prohibiting such arbitrary arrests.”
“Voting was suspended in three of the total 289 polling centres. I don’t think it’s a big incident. But, my question is why there was a shortage of ballot papers at polling stations. Also, there were media reports that the ballots of some voters were cast before they reached the stations. Who has cast those votes?” he asked.