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What do record-low turnouts at the polls indicate?

  • Published at 10:21 pm March 25th, 2019
Web-Satkhira-upazila-election
Voters are seen casting their votes for the third phase of Upazila Parishad Election in Satkhira, on March 24, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

According to the Election Commission, the first phase reported voter turnout below 30% in at least seven upazilas in five districts. During the second phase, the number of upazilas was 12, from six districts

Abject apathy regarding the upazila polls continues unabated as voters remain indifferent to electing a representative in their respective upazilas.

Turnout has been as low as 8%, while a 20% turnout has been deemed acceptable and normal by the authorities.

According to Election Commission (EC) sources, during the second phase of upazila elections, Dakshin Surma upazila in Sylhet experienced the lowest voter turnout of 8.63%. The second-lowest turnout was in  neighbouring Jaintiapur upazila with a 9.38% turnout.

During the same phase, Bogura sadar upazila saw a 13.13% turnout, and Rajshahi’s Bagmara upazila saw 13.19% voters turn up during the first phase.

According to the Election Commission, the first phase reported voter turnout below 30% in at least seven upazilas in five districts. During the second phase, the number of upazilas was 12, from six districts.

But while election experts have begun to grow concerned over dwindling voter participation and the alarming rise of uncontested winners, the Election Commission seems pleased with itself.

EC Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed, after the second phase, said a free, fair, and peaceful vote is far more important than voter attendance.


Also Read- EC: ‘Not concerned’ about low voter turnout in upazila polls


He said there are no legal parameters to justify voter turnout, noting that the low voter participation was due to campaigning by political parties to discourage implementation of the voting franchise.

Yet, the perfectly legal yet dubious polls were confronted with a dangerous reality when a motorcade of election officials were fired upon in Rangamati by unidentified attackers, leaving seven dead and dozens injured.

Factbox

Elections held: 322 upazilas in 52 districts

Chairmen elected uncontested: 69

Elections postponed: Six upazilas

Turnouts: 43% in first phase, 41% in second phase and 41% in third phase

Overall turnout: 41.66%

Lowest turnout: 8.63% at Dakshin Surma, Sylhet

Highest turnout: 79.67% at Mohalchari, Khagrachhari

Total chairmen-elect (as of March 25): 199 from AL; 99 independents; three from JaPa

Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda called the attack a by-product of regional issues, and said the overall situation during the elections was acceptable, aside from the Rangamati massacre. 

According to EC sources, in the first phase of voting, people voted to elect 42 chairmen nominated by the ruling party, 23 independent candidates, and 15 who were elected unopposed.


Also Read- Clash, shooting mark third phase of upazila polls


In the second phase, the ruling party won 74 chairman posts with 51 elected, the others having won uncontested. The main opposition in parliament, the Jatiya party, won two chairman positions, while 38 independent candidates won in their constituencies.

In the third phase, the ruling party won the chairmanship of 83 upazilas, with 52 of them voted in, and the others unopposed. The Jatiya Party won one seat, and independent candidates took 38.

The BNP, Left Democratic Alliance, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan, and Bangladesh Muslim League, boycotted the polls because they say the EC has been under the government’s thumb since the last national polls. This election is the first ever wherein political parties nominated candidates for the upazila parishad.