From the Editor-in-Chief: Cause for worry

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, June 2nd, 2016
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A few days ago, the chief election commissioner suggested that there should be a change in our mindset if the nation is to achieve democracy. He also said that people need to be ready for democracy. Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad’s comments were made in light of some of the worst violence related to the on-going union parishad elections last Saturday. Twelve people died on the day as elections to 717 unions in the fifth phase of the polls were underway. Additionally, scores of others were injured in clashes between supporters of rival candidates. The homes of candidates and their supporters were vandalized. It was a disturbing sign of how elections are being ruined by becoming hostage to conditions which undermine democracy. If such violence can define grassroots voting like the UP elections, one becomes apprehensive about the state of future elections for the national parliament.


Here is the truth: it is a bad election or no election at all when citizens lose their lives in the violence accompanying the scramble for votes and for seizure of polling booths or ballot boxes. But that has indeed been the reality with the UP elections since they commenced in the last week of March this year. In excess of a hundred people have died so far by some estimates. One can comprehend the dire straits in which the families of these dead have fallen. Last week, in Patiya, a poor rickshaw puller who died from stab wounds inflicted on him when he found himself caught in violence between the supporters of two candidates. Like any citizen aware of his rights, he had left home to cast his vote. He ended up losing his life. This citizen and others who have died in election-related violence in the last two months have left behind families who now have nowhere to turn to for mere survival. The larger tragedy is that neither the Election Commission nor the administration has ever looked upon these deaths as the fall-out of crime. There are hardly any instances of political leaders and workers being booked for the deaths of people in election-related violence.


One understands the sentiments of the CEC. But one would have appreciated it if he had properly asserted his and the Election Commission’s authority at these elections. The Election Commission has done itself little credit by its role as a silent spectator to all the violence.  And then there are some other worrying facts. In a very large number of places, the violence was caused by clashes between followers of the official Awami League nominees and those of the rebel candidates who had earlier been denied party nominations. Independent candidates were threatened with violence and were unable to campaign openly in the run-up to the voting.


Such a situation worries us no end. Democracy will have little chance of consolidating itself if violence continues to mar citizens’ right to vote. Conditions must therefore turn better for us, if we mean good governance to be the underlying principle of the state.

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