• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:36 am

Low voter turnout: Experts blame lack of confidence in electoral system

  • Published at 11:29 pm February 2nd, 2020
Election Zakir
File Photo shows election officials helping voters to vote using EVMs in the Dhaka City Corporation elections on Saturday, February 1, 2020 Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The all-EVM (electronic voting machine) city polls had witnessed only a little over 27% vote casting, lowest ever turnout in such elections in the country

Some electoral experts and civil society members have attributed the poor turnout of voters in elections to Dhaka’s two city corporations to the people’s lost confidence in the country’s electoral system. 

They also expressed a sense of urgency in urging the Election Commission to find out the reasons why voters, in large majority, shied away from casting their votes in Saturday’s elections.

The all-EVM (electronic voting machine) city polls had witnessed only a little over 27% vote casting, lowest ever turnout in such elections in the country.

Election Commission data shows the turnout was 29.2% for Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) election and only 25.30% for Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC).

It was 35.87% for DNCC and 48.57% for DSCC in the elections held in 2015.

Elections into other city corporations in Bangladesh held since 1994 had turnouts to the range of 60-80%.

A man casting his vote in Dhaka city polls 2020 on Saturday, February 1, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

‘Bring voters’ confidence back’

Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar on Sunday said voters felt fear of visiting polling centres because of huge showdown of the ruling party supporters while they also have lack of trust on the current Election Commission.

“Our election system is on the verge of collapse. If people continue to lose their interest for voting rights, the democracy will fail,” he said.

He stressed on the necessity to form an Election Commission that can bring back public trust on it.

Transparency International, Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the commission utterly failed to prove that people do have the right to exercise their franchise.

“The election was embarrassing for all citizens of Bangladesh. No initiative was taken to create trust among the voters to exercise their voting rights, so people refrained from casting votes,” he said.

Former election commissioner Brig Gen (Retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said there were huge gatherings of people, mostly ruling party supporters, outside of each polling centre. “I don't know whether they barred voters from coming to polling centres or not; however, the presence of these people wearing badges was a clear violation of electoral laws,” he said.

It is high time to find out why voters are not feeling interested to vote, he added.

File Photo: US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller visits a polling centre in Dhaka on Saturaday, February 1, 2020 | UNB

Results delayed despite EVMs

The delay by the returning officers in announcing the election results on Saturday night also created doubts among citizens, alleged Shujan Secretary Badiul.

“If the EVMs can read the result within 30 minutes, then why the officials took until midnight to announce the results?” he questioned.

On the other hand, Iftekharuzzaman said it was a good chance for the Election Commission to restore some public trust via EVMs.

“But the commission acted the opposite because of series of complaints regarding violation of electoral rules and code,” he said.

There were incidents of electoral code violations right from the beginning, but they could have been avoided if the commission had taken necessary steps, said Sakhawat.

Building an Election Commission, as an independent institution, is the need of the hour, he stressed.

What EC says

Election Commission Senior Secretary Md Alamgir on Sunday said that they were not completely satisfied with the rates of voter turnout as they expected it to be 50%.

“We thought voters would come to vote spontaneously, but many were out of Dhaka on vacation. Some went to social events, while some were busy with Facebook on the weekend. So, gradually, they felt less interested to visit polling centres and cast their votes,” he said.

Responding to a question, Alamgir said if people had no faith on voting, they would refrain from voting for the ruling party too, but it did not happen during the last general election.

“So the factor of public mistrust on voting or on the Election Commission is not correct,” he added.