It is clear from Thursday's experience that we have had a ritual of an election. The extraordinarily low turn-out of voters during the Dhaka North City Corporation election speaks volumes about the general apathy that has developed in people regarding the electoral process. Reports from the first few hours of voting indicated that there were hardly any voters at the polling centres around the city. And this indicated a disillusionment with the way elections have been held in the past.
During the voting hours the Chief Election Commissioner shrugged off responsibility of the low voter turnout saying that it rested on the shoulders of the candidates and the political parties. But that is just passing the buck. Of course it is the responsibility of the Election Commission to ensure that there is a high turnout at the polling centres. The low turnout is a reflection of the disappointment felt by the people during the 2014 national elections (with 150 unopposed seats) and more recently, the 2018 national elections when the EC did practically nothing in the wake of allegations of harassment of opposition candidates and their supporters before the polls, the absence of opposition party polling agents, stuffing of ballots, orchestrated long lines at polling centres, voter intimidation and so on. In fact the EC did not take any significant action before, during or after the national election to address any of these issues. Why would the public then suddenly develop enough confidence in the EC to come out to vote again in the mayoral election?
The DCC North elections are very important and we have seen in Annisul Huq what a committed mayor can achieve for the city for which he was very popular. His sudden demise put a halt to much of the crucial development work. That there were no major opposition candidates contesting does not bode well for the country's democracy. Compared to the last mayoral elections when candidates were very active in reaching out to the public, this time around the atmosphere was very dismal and it wasn't just the bad weather that resulted in the poor voter turnout that we saw on February 28 regardless of the Election Commission's claim of a 50 percent voter turnout.
Voting is a people's right and the fact that most voters chose not to exercise it gives a message of a lack of confidence in such a major component of the democratic process.
Let us therefore stop deluding ourselves and put our efforts in rebuilding people's confidence in the voting system in order to make democracy functional. And it is up to the ruling party and the EC to create the space for opposition parties to exercise their right to take part in politics and for the people to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner. If we want our democracy to survive that is the only way to go.