An uncontested election is not an election
It comes as no surprise that the elections to 160 union councils and 11 municipal corporations, held in the first phase of the UP elections on September 20, were marred by violence and alleged electoral frauds. But perhaps what's worse, and even a bit surprising, is that 43 Awami League chairman candidates won uncontested, according to the Election Commission. This prompted Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar to ask whether we could call these unopposed winners "elected" at all. Given that they were the only candidates contesting for the positions, it cannot really be said that they were elected by the people; rather, they were—for all intents and purposes—selected by the ruling party.
The only opposition to the candidates fielded by the Awami League came from its own rebels, who surprisingly won a significant number of chairman seats. Is that a sign of the lack of popularity enjoyed by the ruling party? The truth is, we might never know through such elections, where hardly any other party—apart from those associated or formerly associated with the ruling party—participates. What is certain, however, is that such elections are creating a clear apathy among voters which, according to the election commissioner, is an ominous sign for democracy.
For a multi-party democratic system, participation of many parties is a prerequisite, said the commissioner. The fact that we have now had several elections in which only one party has contested—which completely defeats the purpose of an election—is a clear sign that our democracy right now is in a severe crisis. And for it to have any chance of overcoming this crisis, changes have to be made in the current electoral system, based on a consensus among all political parties. That, however, seems to be miles away at the moment.
In the absence of any credible opposition, intra-party feud among different Awami League factions has been hogging the election headlines regularly. Recent violence during the polls again claimed three lives. Such tragedies, unfortunately, seem to have become customary. The Election Commission must take responsibility for these deaths and alleged electoral frauds that have become a common feature of elections, both local and national. The commission cannot shirk its responsibility for failing to prevent widespread irregularities in the elections, with the obvious outcome being a drastic, sustained fall in voter turnout. This cannot go on indefinitely. The commission must take meaningful actions to restore the tradition of fair and participatory elections in Bangladesh.