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11th general election: Fewer observers than 2008 polls

  • Published at 12:18 pm December 19th, 2018
WEB_Election_Vote-cast_Syed-Zakir-Hossain_Edited_08.11.2018
File photo of a voter casting ballot during an election in Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Around 42,000 polling stations will be set up for more than 104 million voters

Around 26,000 local and foreign election observers will monitor the upcoming 11th parliamentary election, slated for December 30.

More than 34,800 local and foreign observers have applied for permission to monitor the election. Of them, 34,671 are local, while 167 are foreign, observers. 

“About 34,838 observers of 81 organizations have applied to monitor the upcoming election. However, the commission is considering only allowing for there to be 25,920 election observers,” said the commission’s Joint Secretary SM Asaduzzaman.   

He said: “Some election observer organizations have applied, appointing more than one observer in some constituencies; because of this, the number of observers has been reduced.”

The matter was discussed at a commission meeting on December 15, Asaduzzaman said. 

The number of observers for the upcoming election is lower than the number observing the 9th general polls held in 2008; despite both elections being participatory.

In 2008, 593 foreign observers and 159,113 local observers monitored the election. Even in 2001, 225 foreign observers from 32 countries, and 218,000 local observers from 69 organizations, monitored the polls. In 1996, the number of foreign observers stood at 265, and that of local observers stood at 40,000. In 1991, there were 59 foreign observers and 30,000 local observers.

The number of observers has increased since the 10th parliamentary polls in 2014, where there were fewer election observers due to security concerns. Only four foreign, and 8,878 local, observers monitored the election as many parties boycotted the election.

Asaduzzaman said there are intelligence reports about 14 of the 81 observer organizations. Additionally, political parties have submitted complaints against five organizations.

Observer cards will be issued according to the commission’s instructions, said the EC’s assistant director of public relations Ashadul Haque.

Objection to 5 observer organizations

A commission official, preferring to remain anonymous, told the Dhaka Tribune that Awami League filed complaints against four observer organizations: Khan Foundation, Democracy Watch, Light House, and Bangladesh Manobadhikar Somonnoy Parishad. 

On December 12, the prime minister’s Political Adviser, HT Imam, filed a complaint to the commission, saying that these organizations are biased.

Light House Founder and Chief Executive, Harun-Or Rashid, said it is a false accusation. 

“We are a simple organization under the Election Working Group (EWG), working for many years. We have no involvement with politics. It is a trend to complain against anyone.”

He furthered, "This time, we are preparing to deploy only 800 observers due to a  funding shortage”.

Bangladesh Manobadhikar Somonnoy Porisad Member Secretary, AHM Foysoul, also denied the accusation.

“They alleged that it is an organization of Odhikar, whose registration has recently been canceled by the commission. The allegation that we are politically biased is absolutely wrong; the organization is a part of the Election Working Group. I do not know how HT Imam filled a complaint against us,” he said. 

BNP has filed a complaint against Jatiya Nirbachon Porjobekkhon Parishad (JANIPOP).

Local observers

Of the 34,671 local observers applying to monitor the upcoming election, more than 3,800 observers are from Janipop, 2,430 from Democracy Watch, and 3,598 from Adarsha Palli Unnoyon Songstha.

Until now, 118 local observers have registered with the Election Commission. 

Fewer foreign observers

An Election Commission official said Forum of Election Management of South Asia (FEMBOSA), A-Web, and the Association of African Election Authorities(AAEA) have been invited to monitor the general polls.

India, Bhutan, and the Maldives have stated that they will send observers and have already sent the names of those on their observer teams.

“We have received 32 applications from International NGO network Anfrel, and three applications from Nepal’s private organization Vipendra Initiative Center,” the official said.

Applications by hundreds of foreigners from diplomatic missions in Bangladesh, and local staff, have been submitted. The local members of foreign organizations would be issued local observer cards.

Recently Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said they have received 30 to 35 applications from the US embassy.

Commission officials said diplomatic missions of nine countries have expressed their interest in monitoring the 11th parliamentary election. The countries are: France, Japan, Spain, Denmark, Norway, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. 

The countries have applied for the following number of observers: France for four,  Japan for nine, Spain for one, Denmark for three, Norway for two, Germany for eight, Netherlands for four, and Switzerland for six. 

Apart from this, 32 applicants from four foreign organizations have applied; as well as eight foreign journalists. 

EU not sending observers

This time, the European Union (EU) had declined to monitor the general election because of security issues and a lack of time to prepare for the elections.

In 2014 they also did not send observers due to unrest by political parties.

However, the EU will closely monitor the upcoming election in Bangladesh.

The EU will be watching the developments. Two EU experts are staying in Bangladesh to monitor the election; and might stay until January depending on the evolving situation. 

More voters, more polling centres

Although this year the number of observers has increased, it is lower than during the 2008 election. At that time, there were around 160,000 local, and 600 foreign, observers monitoring the election.

However, the number of voters and polling stations is far higher this time than in 2008 and 2014. During the 2008 polls, 35,263 polling centres were set up for 81 million voters, and in 2014 there were 37,711 polling centres; for over 90.19 million voters. In the upcoming election, around 42,000 polling stations will be set up for more than 104.1 million voters.

The commission officials said they are watching observers so that none influence the election or work for a specific political party or group. Thus, the commission wants to be careful about which observers it approves.