As far as let-downs go, it pretty much took the cake. Yet no-one can can deny that in a strange sort of way, it was never all that unexpected either. With electioneering set to enter the final stretch, the High Court this week stayed the Gazipur City Corporation elections scheduled to be held on May 15 for three months. Given the circumstances surrounding the latest development however, almost no-one now expects these polls to take place this year. Even as we await the hearing on two petitions challenging the court order, set to take place after Dhaka Courier goes to press this week.
If the script sounds eerily familiar, that is because it is. Indeed, it was nothing less than a play-by-play carbon copy of what transpired earlier this year, with the by-election for the Dhaka North City Corporation mayor’s post that fell vacant following the death of the incumbent Annisul Huq last November. Again we had the Election Commission come out and announce an election schedule, stipulating February 26 as polling day, seemingly confident in their pronouncements that “there are no legal complications against holding the by-polls.”
One would hope some lessons at least will have been learnt, once the commission was caught blindsided about six weeks out from polling day on that occasion, precisely on the issues that had been identified and warned against for weeks by a number of observers. To say that it reflected poor form on the part of an EC that badly needed to look at least competent to make up for a dubious selection process, would be an understatement. CEC Nurul Huda certainly talks a good game. Yet his ability and increasingly his will to deliver the goods look badly out of their depth.
Even so, the people will concede that you may be blindsided on an issue once. Twice means you’re playing blind. Unfortunately that is exactly what has happened. The one difference - the timing of the HC intervention as it related to the polling schedule - only serves to make things even worse. Election fever had well and truly taken hold in Gazipur, which till 2013 had been a bastion of the ruling party. The landmark mayoral election that was won by the BNP’s candidate that year, is still held by the opposition as a marker that free-and-fair elections nationwide can see them break the AL’s hold on power.
If nothing else, an exciting, hard-fought contest for sure would be the expectation, and that has been shown to be the principal driver of people’s participation in the political process worldwide. As adamant as the BNP may remain over their demand for some neutral poll-time government, this is unlikely to be met. But in its absence, common sense dictates that a strong, able and independent EC is an absolute must, if we are to prevent a descent into farce. The hapless display we have witnessed this week is reminiscent of the player in the middle of the old parlour game, Blind Man’s Bluff (who gets blindfolded and spun around to start a search). It does not bode well for the more serious stuff to come later this year.