Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

On the matter of voter turnout

A reflective analysis on the first phase of the UZP elections

Update : 14 May 2024, 08:16 AM

On May 5, the citizens of Bangladesh exercised their right to vote in the first phase of the upazila parishad election, choosing their representatives in 139 upazila parishads. The election was predominantly conducted in a manner that adhered to principles of free and fair elections, however, there are concerns over the level of voter turnout in the intended proportion. There were few instances of violence during the initial round, however, the election day environment was calm and quiet in most places. The election commission stated that 36.1% of voters participated in the first phase of the election. 

Now, a crucial inquiry arises as to why the voter turnout rate is relatively low in comparison to previous elections. Various indicators might have influenced the decreased voter turnout rate. One possible cause is the decision of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to abstain from participating in the election. In our country, we have a track record of lively and engaged local government elections, where candidates from many political parties have actively participated. During that period, the elections were conducted in a celebratory manner. 

In addition to the political affiliations of the candidates, the election process is also  influenced by the local power dynamics and specific local concerns. Nevertheless, the BNP’s central leadership’s decision to boycott the election provided the Awami League candidates with the opportunity to compete among themselves. Despite the central leadership's decision, a significant number of local BNP leaders participated in the election and emerged victorious in seven upazila parishad chairman posts. 

Another contributing factor may be the ruling party’s decision to abstain from nominating candidates from the party in the election, resulting in the holding of a “non-partisan” election as no political party used their party symbol in the election. But, due to the non-participation of BNP candidates, the elections were mostly fought by candidates from the ruling party. Hence, the voters may have been hesitant to exercise their voting rights due to the perception that any candidate from the ruling party would inevitably emerge victorious in the election. 

The day labourers may be disinclined to visit voting centres due to the opportunity cost of losing a day's income. Even the supporters and followers of the BNP may have chosen not to cast their votes to show solidarity with the central leadership’s decision.

Another influential factor is the decision made by the central leadership of the Awami League to prohibit the participation of the relatives of the current members of parliament and ministries in the election. It is possible that this decision was made based on the belief that MPs and ministers wanted to consolidate their influence at the local level to preserve their dominance. 

Consequently, the committed leadership may have perceived them as being excluded from the political process. Therefore, the central leadership may have decided to provide opportunities for devoted and popular leaders to become representatives of the upazila parishad. 

There is no strict requirement for a certain percentage of votes to validate an election. From this standpoint, there is no issue with legalizing the initial phase of the upazila prishad election

Indeed, several relatives of the incumbent MPs actively participated in the election and emerged as winners, while some other relatives of the MPs chose to withdraw their candidacies. No punitive measures have been implemented against the individuals who participated in the election. The followers of the leaders who were compelled to withdraw their candidacy after the central leadership’s decision might have felt reluctant to visit the polling stations and exercise their right to vote. 

Another potential cause might be the impact of the severe weather conditions and prolonged heat waves experienced over the past month or longer. Due to the severe weather conditions, the individuals were unable to freely and actively engage in the election process. 

The citizens of Bangladesh recently engaged in the 12th parliamentary election only four months ago. Consequently, voters may have lacked the motivation to actively engage in another stage of elections so soon. 

Due to our adherence to the first-past-the-post voting method, there is no strict requirement for a certain percentage of votes to validate an election. From this standpoint, there is no issue with legalizing the initial phase of the upazila prishad election, considering the voter turnout figure of 36.1%. 

Nevertheless, to guarantee the strengthening of democracy, we need increased engagement in the electoral process. Furthermore, the reduced number of participating voters may provide possibilities for the opposition to assert that their choice to boycott the election garnered unanimous support from the population, despite the actual circumstances being distinct. Hence, the ruling party must give careful consideration to this matter. 

The ruling party has a robust organizational foundation that extends down to the grassroots level. Therefore, it is imperative for the party's local leadership to proactively encourage voters to participate in voting on a greater scale to further the party's interests. Naturally, one can question the reason behind the fragmentation of the ruling party's local organizational basis into many factions. The party's central leadership must address the matter and implement appropriate measures to enhance voter turnout rates during the upcoming three stages of the election. 

The election commission has a crucial responsibility to encourage individuals to use their right to vote. In the past, the electoral commission implemented extensive voter education initiatives with the assistance of non-governmental organizations. It is advisable to introduce these programs to raise awareness among the public about the need to exercise their right to vote in larger numbers. Higher voter turnouts are crucial for strengthening democracy in the country. 

Dr Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.

Top Brokers


Popular Links