Voting day in Bangladesh's tense 10th national parliamentary elections was marred by poor voter turnout and bursts of violence across the country, leaving more than 18 people killed and scores injured.
The country's political opposition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had aggressively boycotted the election and their supporters had resorted to petrol bombings and other deadly protests to stop the vote. More than 100 schools turned polling stations were set on fire on the eve of the election.
Votes were suspended in more than 400 centers across the country. Counting continues and results are trickling in (live update here).
Bangladesh's Election Commission cited [bn] a mere 40 percent voter participation, low compared to the last parliamentary election in 2008, where voter turnout stood at 87 percent. Some non-governmental human rights and election monitoring agencies have offered numbers even lower than the official, putting turnout at 10 percent [bn].
Blogger Omi Rahman Pial explained on Facebook why turnout was low in this election:
সংবাদমাধ্যম খুব ফলাও করে সন্ত্রাসের খবর প্রচার করছে, আবার বলছে এই নির্বাচন একটা প্রহসনের নির্বাচন কারন মানুষ এই নির্বাচনে অংশ গ্রহন করছেনা। কিন্তু কেউ বলছেনা আসল কথা – এতো সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে মানুষের জীবন বিপন্ন হয়ে পরেছে, জামাত-বিএনপি রাষ্ট্রযন্ত্রের উপর প্রকাশ্য ঘোষনা দিয়ে আক্রমন চালাচ্ছে। এই অবস্থায় মানুষ ভোটকেন্দ্রে যাবে কেমন করে? সাংবাদিকেরা এই সহজ জিনিসটা বুঝেনা এরকম ভাবার কোন কারন নেই।
The media were vocal in highlighting pre-election violence across the country. At the same time, they were mentioning that without the opposition, this election has become a farce, so people are not participating. But nobody is telling the truth, the daily lives of people have been disrupted due to constant blockades, violence. They are seeing that BNP-Jamaat have been attacking the government openly. How dare people go to the polling stations (risking their lives)? Don't think that the journalists don't know this.
Voter turnout was varied in different centers across the country. In some stations, there were the usual crowds, while others were deserted.
নির্বাচন প্রতিহত করতে আপনারা স্কুলগুলো জ্বালিয়ে দিলেন; আগুনে ঝলসে মারলেন নির্বাচনী কর্মকর্তাকে; ভোটারদের আতঙ্কিত-সন্ত্রস্ত করে বাধ্য করলেন কেন্দ্র না যেতে। তারপরও কিভাবে দাবি করবেন যে, মানুষ এই নির্বাচন প্রত্যাখ্যান করেছে? তাদের তো স্বেচ্ছায় ভোট কেন্দ্রে না যাবার সিদ্ধান্ত নিতেও দিলেন না!
You have burnt those schools to stop the elections, grilled a polling officer with fire, intimidated voters to not to go to the polling stations. And still you claim that the people have rejected the election. You did not let them freely decide.
There have been cases of attacks on voters on their way to polling booths. Shawn Ahmed (@uncultured) tweeted:
In the district where The John Green School is, Muslim extremists beat a man to death and injured a few others. The victims’ crime? Voting.
— Shawn Ahmed (@uncultured) January 5, 2014
Unlike the last election, women voter turnout was low. Amidst the uncertainty was the participation of one 85-year-old woman, reported Ononto Akash (@Ashtala):
— Ononto Akash (@Ashtala) January 5, 2014
Because of the opposition boycott, 154 contestants were elected before any votes were cast for the lack of challengers, so there were no election held in those constituencies. Many regretted this fact that they could not vote. Amiya (@amiya23) wrote on Twitter:
— Amiya Atahar (@amiya23) January 5, 2014
In this opposition-less election, surprisingly there still have been allegations of rigging against the ruling party Awami League (AL). Twitter user Soldier Rojob Ali wrote:
— Soldier Rojob Ali (@rojob_ali) January 5, 2014
Blogger Rezaur Rahman Rizvi (@rizvi23) questioned the allegations of rigging:
একতরফা নির্বাচনেও যেহেতু ক্ষমতাসীন দলের সদস্যরাই জিতবেন, তবুও কেন সারা দেশ জুড়ে জাল ভোটের এমন মহোৎসব হলো?… http://t.co/T1jOBgBMTZ
— Rezaur Rahman Rizvi (@rizvi23) January 5, 2014
In this one-sided election we know that the chosen candidates are favored to win, so why would vote rigging be required?
The opposition led by BNP has not backed down from their protests and has announced fresh programs of 48-hour nationwide strikes along with the previously declared nationwide blockade. General people fear renewed violence across the country.
A Dhaka Tribune editorial talked about the necessity of this opposition-less election and the way forward:
The holding of today’s 10th parliamentary election in the absence of the main opposition party can only be justified on the basis of constitutional necessity. The results cannot and should not be viewed as a mandate to rule for a full term. [..]
We acknowledge that today’s elections neither resolve the political crisis nor bring an end to the issue of representative elections that are the people’s right. We call on both AL and BNP to move forward together to give the people elections acceptable to all.
Many are still looking forward to a meaningful negotiation and an inclusive election. Journalist J. E. Mamun hoped for such an election soon:
[...] নির্বাচন এদেশে ঈদের মতো ফূর্তি, আমরা সেরকম একটি ফূর্তির নির্বাচনের অপেক্ষায় রইলাম। আর শুভ কাজ যত দ্রুত হয় ততই মঙ্গল, শুভশ্য শীঘ্রম!
[...] Elections are like a celebration in this country. We are looking forward to an all-party celebratory election, the sooner the better.