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Don’t Ignore the Sound of Absent Voters!

Don’t Ignore the Sound of Absent Voters!

In recent months before the election, Awami League's General Secretary Obaidul Quader has frequently cited a survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the United States. According to this survey, 70% of voters support Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, expressing their belief that she should be re-elected. The IRI survey, published last August, gained significant attention as it revealed a record-breaking 92% of voters expressing their intention to vote in favor of her.

However, even if we consider the Election Commission's reported 41.8% voter turnout as accurate, it is clear that at least 50% of eligible voters chose not to participate.

There are lingering questions regarding the Election Commission's calculations, particularly concerning the sudden surge in votes during the final hours of voting, raising concerns about its feasibility and the unusual nature of this increase.

The significant number of people choosing not to vote can be attributed to the effective strategies or efforts by opposition parties, including the BNP and other boycotters, to discourage voter turnout. This election boycott, reminiscent of past instances like the February 15, 1996, and January 5, 2014 elections, highlights the historical dynamics and intricacies surrounding such events.

Analyzing the history of those two elections provides insights into the current situation. The news from Ittefaq on February 16, 1996, reveals that on the day of the election, both the immediate opposition party, Awami League, and Jamaat-e-Islami observed a nationwide general strike called 'Ganacurfew.' The day saw clashes across the country, resulting in 10 fatalities and over a hundred injuries, leading the Election Commission to suspend voting in 2,800 polling centers. The voter turnout was 26%.

In 2014, Awami League secured victory uncontested with 153 seats due to the boycott by others. However, the 18-party alliance led by BNP had called for a nationwide general strike on the day of the election. Widespread violence occurred, resulting in 22 lives lost. The voting took place for 146 seats with a turnout of 40%.

Contrary to past instances, the violence in the recent election primarily resulted from internal conflicts within the Awami League itself. Despite casualties and injuries, this internal discord within the Awami League aims to portray the election as controversial.

Efforts to influence voters continued despite attempts to encourage participation. Discussions about various national benefits and potential discontinuation of subsidies were ongoing. Reports from various media outlets and foreign publications highlighted instances where voters were offered incentives, including cash distribution, to encourage them to cast their votes.

Despite these incentives, the IRI survey reveals that 69% of respondents do not support elections under any partisan government. Support for elections under a caretaker government was 44%, and under an all-party government, it was 25%.

Controversies and allegations surrounding the elections in 2014 and 2018 have undoubtedly impacted the majority of people in the country. The dissatisfaction towards elections under a partisan government is evident among a significant portion of the population.

If there were a provision on the ballot allowing voters to express their preference for none of the candidates, similar to some Western countries, the voter turnout might have been much higher.

In the most recent contentious election in 2008, where Awami League emerged victorious, the voter turnout was 87%.

The IRI survey also indicates that support for the opposition party increased by 63%, and 53% of people expressed the belief that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The unilateral election approach taken to fulfill constitutional obligations has thrown us into a new political crisis. Although the true nature of the crisis may not be evident right now, it won't take much time for it to manifest.

With a unipolar parliament in the twelfth session dominated by Awami League, the sense of hopelessness among the country's most populous citizens, deprived of their voting rights for the third consecutive time, may not be resolved quickly.

Awami League needs to recognize from its own experiences that suppressing and persecuting the political opposition does not discourage them but rather strengthens their resolve and organizational unity. The commitment of BNP and its allies to lead a movement for the restoration of voting rights, along with the possibility of demanding a caretaker government, cannot be ruled out.

A powerless opposition party may feel somewhat satisfied with forming a government for the fourth time, but the suffocation of democracy is never a cause for celebration.

The one-sided election of 1996 gave birth to a political crisis, and to find relief, there was a need for political dialogue and another election quickly. The need for a resolution after the one-sided election in 2014 was not fulfilled, which is why the crisis has prolonged further. Now, the crisis has added a new dimension with the January 7th election. To find a path to resolve the crisis, it is now essential to initiate discussions on a new political consensus.

Tvista Desk

Tvista Desk

Sub Editor

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