Awami League’s ‘boat’ sails to easy win in Dhaka city polls amid dismal turnout

The Awami League’s pickings have won the mayor elections in the two city corporations of Dhaka by massive margins that paled their rivals into insignificance but the dismally low turnout has taken the gloss off the ballot.

Moinul Hoque Chowdhurybdnews24.com
Published : 1 Feb 2020, 11:33 PM
Updated : 1 Feb 2020, 11:33 PM

Only 29 percent of voters turned out in the South while the figure dropped further in the North to 25.3 percent following Chief Election Commisioner KM Nurul Huda’s prediction of an average turnout below 30 percent.

The presence of the ruling party activists outside the polling stations was significant throughout the day, but there was desperation to draw voters inside.

The decline in turnout in different polls since the boycott of the 2014 general election by most of the political parties had been described by Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar as an ominous sign for Bangladesh’s democracy.

In the 2015 elections to the city corporations in the capital and Chattogram, the average turnout was 43 percent. In the mayor by-election to Dhaka North last year, it was 31 percent. The turnout in the recent parliamentary by-election to Chattogram-8 seat was 22 percent.

Talukdar, however, is happy with the “true turnout” this time as he believes the use of electronic voting machines or EVMs has done away with “fake votes”.

Dhaka North mayor-elect Atiqul Islam thinks many voters had left Dhaka to enjoy holidays, including the election day.

His fellow Awami League candidate in the South, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, echoed Atiqul and added that he had expected many more voters considering the enthusiasm he had seen during the campaign.

Senior Awami League leader Amir Hossain Amu has blamed the ban on traffic for the low turnout, even though it is always done during elections.

The BNP has alleged its agents were driven out of the polling stations while its supporters were being barred from casting their ballots.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh says the people did not go to the polling stations as threats posed by the ruling party created fear of intimidation.

Many of the voters, including the CEC and Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain, faced trouble casting their ballots as the machines could not read their fingerprints.

There were also allegations that voters were forced to cast ballot for particular candidates after ID confirmation on the EVMs. Many were driven out of the centre after the identification so that the votes can be cast for ruling party candidates.

Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, the chairman of National Election Observation Council or Janipop, however, believes there was no option to rig votes.

“The number of voter appears lower than expected because there was no fake vote,” he told bdnews24.com.

He refused to be concerned about the low turnout in e-voting.

Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam agreed. “The percentage of votes doesn’t matter. An election is acceptable when no question over the process arises and law and order remains under control,” she said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reiterated her support for EVMs.

"The process is very transparent. Why are some people apprehensive about this technology? They (BNP) fear that it is no longer possible to rig the election with the help of goons,” she said after voting.

To her, the Awami League government’s popularity as well as e-voting has passed the tests in Dhaka.

“It was a test for EVM. And the people’s faith in us has also been tested after what we have done for them,” she said when Atiqul and Taposh went to meet her in the evening.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher