The EC has already handled more than one election at several levels but the Gaibandha polls was the first at the MP level. The performance has however been less than encouraging. With all good intentions or not, it looks like the ECs Job Description to hold a quality election is going to be doubted by all.

The matter is not the EC's fault. The politicians simply aren't ready or going to play by the EC rules and the EC is not really able to assert the rules at any level. The end result is what one had feared and expected. The latest polls at Gaibandha confirms it once more.

The problem is not so much with the EC as it is with the Bangladesh political system. Since the constitution has not been able to cope with the extra-constitutional actions of all kinds, it has become significantly limited in application. In fact they are in a state of conflict and in this, the constitution can't prevail.

Given that this country has had 3 spells of martial law, two killing of its head of the government and the state, several forced ousters and endless amendments of convenience not to mention a very limited capacity of the constitution itself, a formal document, to become useful in a largely informal state and society is just not there much. The EC is a victim of that contradiction.

A constitutional agency is forced to deal with a political issue or problem which has no space in the constitution. Simply put, the politicians play by their own rules and the EC by another and the two may not meet soon.

The Gaibandha "gono..."

The media reported that the Election Commission has suspended the Gaibandha-5 parliamentary by poll, amid widespread accounts of irregularities, four hours after it opened. Soon after the Election Commission members began monitoring the polling using CCTV cameras the CEC Awal suspended voting. "We all monitored the situation. From the start we saw irregularities in voting and unauthorized and illegal entry into restricted rooms," he said. (BDnews 24)

"Clear evidence was found of people either illegally supporting or forcing voters to cast ballots, '' he said. Many of the polling agents were wearing clothes that had the symbol of their nominees on them and they had coordinated their outfits to identify themselves in a manner that went against regulations. Our officials have noticed these irregularities since 8 am. No one left their stations. These incidents were witnessed and these irregularities and malpractices were widespread." The Election Commission halted voting at various polling centers in response to these irregularities.

The EC chief said that CCTV lines were cut at certain centres, which prevented it from collecting information.

Heart breaking as it may sound to the EC, almost none in Bangladesh is surprised, let alone shocked. This is how elections are mostly conducted in Bangladesh and the constitution and the EC aren't going to turn the clock back. Or change the clock if it wants to.

Is the politics of elections over in Bangladesh?

The EC's lamentations about the electoral process, if not genuinely sad, would have been almost funny because of its naivete.

"To us it seemed that the election was out of our control and that one side, or one candidate, was able to influence it. To our eyes it seemed that it was not possible to hold a fair election." This is how elections happen in Bangladesh anyway. As an important policy making level executive, is the EC boss saying they didn't know this before?. Maybe that is a bit scary as it means the entire EC is full of people who mean well but are out of touch with reality.

Perhaps nothing is more symptomatic of the situation than the EC's claim that the experience will prove useful to the commission in the future to handle more elections. Awal also said that the elections were fraudulent but the EVMs are fine. Not only has he said that but the GOB has sent an sms quoting the EC on the EVM issue to everyone in Bangladesh with a mobile phone.

The GOB/EC has put in too high a stake in EVMs without being able to ensure credible elections and that's because politics and elections are not two separate beings and when one wonks, the other will too.

The future of politics

Asked who was responsible, the EC chief said they were thieves and criminals. ""If we cannot develop a proper culture, the Election Commission will never be able to arrange an orderly and fair election."

This is a good prognosis of the electoral future. It's probably impossible to hold proper elections in Bangladesh anymore. The only candidate who didn't protest and withdraw from the polls was the Awami League candidate Mahmud Hasan. He denied the allegations made by the EC and said no such incidents happened which merited a suspension.

His words were strengthened by the AL leader Mahbub Alam Hanif who said he didn't understand why the polls were suspended when no violence was reported.

Meanwhile, the opposition has asked for a mass movement to oust the government and violence is on the rise.

Neither the ruling party nor the Opposition seems interested in holding elections of acceptable quality making peaceful options increasingly hard to find.

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