Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Voting hurdles: Accessibility, transportation issues deter differently-abled voters

  • 3m persons with disabilities and 1.4m senior citizens in Bangladesh
  • EC says main obstacle is lack of information on number of voters with special needs
Update : 06 Jan 2024, 09:49 AM

The lack of accessibility to polling stations, transportation challenges, and security concerns have led to the reluctance of certain demographics, such as disabled, pregnant women, and elderly people, to exercise their franchise in tomorrow's general election. 

They feel that their voting needs are not adequately addressed, considering there are over 3 million people with disabilities and 1.4 million senior citizens in the country, according to the Department of Social Services and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Despite the provision for voting for disabled persons, senior citizens, and pregnant women under the Representation of the People Order-1972, the Election Commission has not implemented specific measures for this substantial voter population. 

Nazma Begum Popi, who is visually impaired, highlighted the challenges she faced while voting.

She cast her first and last vote in 2008. Since then, she has yet to exercise her franchise, citing travel as the primary issue due to the long distance to polling stations.

Farzana, who is five months pregnant, expressed concerns about the potential risk to her unborn child during the long journey to vote. “You have to walk and stand a lot.”

She said: "I will get the chance to cast my vote again. But if any harm is inflicted on my child while voting this time, I will forever regret this.”

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Shafiqur Rahman believes it is better to avoid voting due to transportation issues, waiting times, and physical obstacles.

Ashrafun Nahar Mishti, an activist advocating for the rights of physically challenged people, shared her voting experiences, emphasizing the need for a safe and accessible voting process. 

She said: "It is risky for physically challenged, elderly, and pregnant women to walk a long way to vote."

She suggested that an error-free Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system could provide a secure option for disabled individuals but emphasized the importance of addressing transportation concerns.

Albert Molla, the executive director of the Access Bangladesh Foundation, stressed the significance of the EC acknowledging the challenge of transporting voters to polling stations. 

He emphasized the need for the EC to identify the number of disabled, elderly, and pregnant voters in each area to make necessary arrangements and prevent the deprivation of voting rights for the large population.

EC lacks data

Responding to the concerns, Ashok Kumar Debnath, project director and additional secretary at EC, pointed to the existing system for disabled, elderly, and pregnant voters.

He said: "As per the legal provisions, a voting system is in place for disabled individuals, the elderly, and pregnant women. The presiding officer is responsible for facilitating their vote when they arrive at the polling station with assistants, exempting them from waiting in line. In the case of a visually impaired person without accompaniment, the presiding officer is authorized to cast a vote on behalf of the candidate of their choice."

The official said the main obstacle to implementing a smooth process for persons with disabilities is that the EC does not have information on how many special needs voters are in each constituency.

He assured that appropriate measures would be taken if there were accurate information on the number of special needs voters in each area.

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