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Voices galore on low voter turnout in Dhaka City elections
Very low voter turnout at the Dhaka Journalists R.A. School Polling Centre at 12-30 pm on Saturday.

Voices galore on low voter turnout in Dhaka City elections

Awami League general secretary, Obaidul Quader who is also the Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, said on Tuesday that voters’ apathy is not a good sign for democracy. He was referring to the low voter turnout at the just concluded Dhaka City elections of February 1. The Election Commission has said that the voter turnout was 27.15 percent, apparently the lowest in Bangladesh so far. A report published in the Daily Ittefaq says the presence of voters was 25.30 percent in Dhaka North and 29.2 in Dhaka South. Mayor Atiqul is backed by 15 percent of voters and Mayor Taposh by 17 percent of voters.
In the same vein leader of the opposition Jatiya Oikya Front, Dr. Kamal Hossain has termed the low voter turnout as an ominous sign for democracy. On the Election Day, he had said that lack of voter enthusiasm and lack of confidence in the electoral system are to blame for the thin presence of voters in the Dhaka City elections.
While minister Obaidul Quader has made the remark and at the same time said that the elections were free and fair, Dr. Kamal Hossain criticised the elections that he said were one-sided as opposition polling agents were not allowed in most polling stations.
Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar has, on the other hand, said that lack of enthusiasm among voters noted during this election is raising questions on the electoral system and putting the system of democracy into crisis. He has asked for reform of election management.
Information Minister Hasan Mahmud the other day identified three main reasons behind the limited participation of voters in the election – a) long public holiday, b) BNP’s publicity against Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), and c) their participation in the polls as a movement.
BNP’s member of Parliament (MP) Harunur Rashid, on the other hand, demanded that the Election Commission should resign for its failure to hold free-fair and neutral elections. He made the demand while he was taking part in the Parliament session on Tuesday.
Abdus Sattar Dulal, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Bangladesh Pratibandhi Kalyan Samity (BPKS) who cast his vote at a Uttara Centre has made a point about the absence of opposition polling agents in polling stations and asked whether the election is valid with the participation of less than 30 percent of voters who cast votes. He has also said that with the EVMs which he found slow it was impossible to take votes of even 30 percent of voters. He said he took about 15 minutes to cast his votes. Dr, Kamal Hossain took 30 minutes. Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda could not find his voter ID through thumb pressure and had to be helped with the voter serial number for his identification and vote casting.
Factually, as well as opinion-wise, there is a consensus on the turnout of a significant minority of voters in the Dhaka City elections. With 72.85 percent of voters preferring not to cast votes, one gets an idea of how aloof they are from the electoral system. One could justify this if a major party boycotts an election as was the case in 2014. But this election was contested by the major contenders. The question arises whether the voters were afraid of going to polling stations as Awami League leaders were accusing the BNP of fielding ‘goondas’ (hooligans) to create trouble in the polling stations while BNP leaders rejected the allegation and instead in reply alleged that the AL had mobilised three million armed people. Or voters did not come as they were not familiar with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that were used despite vehement opposition from the BNP and other parties.
From whatever angle this is viewed, would it be unjustified to say that neither the Election Commission nor the EVMs the commission put into operation in the metropolitan city of Dhaka for the first time, either attracted the voters or won their hearts and minds?