Skepticism over upazila election environment

LEAVING the controversy about the January 5 parliamentary election unresolved, the Election Commission (EC) has taken the new move to hold elections for upazila parishads soon. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rokibuddin Ahmed said, as a news item in the national dailies reported, that the elections will start across the country from February 18 to end in two phases by March 25. He said the EC has discussed the preparatory issues with officials of different ministries on Saturday and received suggestions to finalize decisions on election issues including its time schedules.
In the first phase elections for 106 upazilas out of 487 will be held and elections for the remainder of the upazilas will be held next. But questions have arisen as to why the CEC is in a haste to hold elections to the upazilas at a time when the opposition has boycotted the parliament elections and engaged in a fierce movement for free and fair elections under a neutral caretaker government. The government may be in the hurry to steal the focus from the farcical election to a new political environment to be dominated by upazila elections. But since the EC is a constitutional body and is obliged under law to play a neutral role, why it is toeing the government charted way to hold upazila elections when the nation is passing through a long trauma of violence and many people have died in election related fights across the country. We clearly see there is no election environment and yet, we fear the CEC is pushing the nation to a new spate of instability and bloodsheds. Reports said, the CEC has tried to justify upazila elections by saying it is part of the legal compulsions. Then he plans to hold the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) elections, now bifurcated into two and run by government appointed administrators in absence of elections for over half a decade.
As it appears to many the main reason for holding the upazila polls immediately after the parliamentary election is either to pressure BNP and other opposition parties to take part in it under the new government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina or to secure a one-sided victory for the ruling party candidates in absence of the major opposition in the field. In fact, the entire scheme of the upazila election and DCC polls is widely focused on taking the opposition unprepared to consolidate the new government which lacks legitimacy due to the absence of a real participatory election .
Questions may also arise as to why the CEC only holds discussions with officials of the government for election preparations, instead of talking with opposition parties. We understand that the CEC or the EC as a whole lacks the moral authority to assemble the opposition on its invitation but it does not authorize it either to hold bloody farcical elections over the dead bodies of the protesters who were demanding a fair poll. The way the CEC is holding elections appears to suggest that under the present circumstances he does not recognize the opposition as part of the country’s electoral process. Such a volte face is not helpful to democracy and will only widen the divide. We urge the CEC to save the country’s democratic process by acting as a neutral referee instead of playing a partisan role in the present volatile situation.