Dhaka Courier

The EC can be trusted to blunder

A group of Dhaka University students went on hunger strike demanding deferment of the poll date to the two Dhaka city corporations | UNB photo

The silly, avoidable  and embarrassing situation created by the Election Commission  setting city corporation election dates on the same day as Saraswati Puja tells you that the functioning mechanism of the Bangladesh state is creaking.  People didn’t like it, many were protesting, students went on a hunger strike and finally the political part of the government took notice and resolved the problem.

The date was shifted by two days which has created more problems as it fell on the February launch of school exams (these have since been shifted) but at least the government doesn’t come across as an insensitive state and somewhat clueless  about the trends of public opinion.

The initial resistance by the EC was quite an unnecessary display of  arrogance which it could have done without. For a constitutional outfit which is free to decide independently, they  displayed a disappointing level of public awareness unbecoming of a constitutional body.

Why on earth in the first place?

It’s true that this puja is not a public holiday but that’s all the more reason why one must pay attention because it hurt feelings and made many resentful.  It also provided many people who accuse Bangladesh of being an adverse state for Hindus state more arguments.

Once the date was shifted the EC said that the calendar they had consulted was at fault which showed that the puja was on another date. If that is the case, why did the EC  not say so when the debate was on.

And why did they refuse to shift the date when it was obvious that they had consulted a wrong calendar ?. Instead the EC was saying both are holy acts – elections and puja- and  can be held on the same day.

However, once more the PM saved the situation as the EC went looking for excuses to justify its blunder.

The EC actions besmirched  the  image of Bangladesh.  Had it not been the EC, members of the powerful bureaucracy of Bangladesh, heads would have rolled. But nothing will happen and they are free to  do as they wish under the protective wing of the political state led by the PM.

A matter of ability

The collective inefficiency of the administration is also disturbing.  Its amazing to think that the EC consulted a calendar which according to them was flawed.  And then they never remembered to correct this error. And the mess was allowed to go on and on.

Granted it’s not a national holiday but its a holy day for the Hindu and traditionally such official business  are not generally conducted on such dates simultaneously in Bangladesh. The problem probably was not as much as insensitivity to Hindu sentiments as it was one of  lack of competence. It never even struck the EC that it could  cause problems.

The great advantage of the EC has is the declining public interest in this election. The quality of elections may be terrific but public interest in them is lower than ever. As a result, people really don’t care what they do or don’t.  So they have survived with their limited capacity to hold elections.

Whether this is an achievement or not is another matter but the fact remains it is not really a body which the public pay attention to as a socially or otherwise useful.  That is why some are saying that it was a gimmick to get some public attention by the EC.

Students , social media...

Once the students of Dhaka University began camping at Shahbagh, large scale public attention was drawn.  Had these protesters been vocal on another issue, they would have been dubbed BNP supporters but the protest wrong footed the authorities due to the cause of the protesters.

The EChad  felt vindicated when the High Court said that the elections could be held on the date shared with the puja. The EC and then the judiciary gave decisions which made the situation worse.  And  public attention continued.

Social media was obviously active and most people spoke out against the EC decision. Even the VC of DU, generally the most loyal of academics of the ruling party asked the  EC to change their  decision. The EC should have read the signal.

When Obaidul Quader , GS of AL  and connoisseur of fine watches declared that they had no problem in a date shift, the matter became clear. So when the EC declared the shift, it was merely a formality. Nobody really cared what they said. A date had damaged many reputations and relations and exposed certain weaknesses of the formal state.


Please note that...

-The  EC basically has little clout, social awareness and hasn’t upheld the kind of responsibilities that a constitutional body needs to. It needs help to perform better.

-The Judiciary is also unaware of the impact of its decisions and needs more social  awareness orientation of legal issues.

-The political government continues to hold sway over others. It needs to train its workers better and not depend on the EC or the Court in order to uphold the status of the state.

-The formal state is looking more dysfunctional state and informal instruments including social protest works better than the constitution and the court.

The dependence on PM Sheikh Hasina is also increasing and whether that is good or not so good for Bangladesh remains to be seen.

  • The EC can be trusted to blunder
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 29
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • DhakaCourier

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