Low voter turnout mar Dhaka North and South City elections

Low turnout of voters has marred the charm of the just concluded elections of the two city corporations at Dhaka’s North and South. Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda has remarked that the actual voter presence in the just concluded elections would be less than 30 percent. Election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar has said that the voter turnout will be less than 25 percent.Voicing dissatisfaction over the low voter turnout, Jatiya Oikya Front Convener Dr Kamal Hossain on Saturday said voters are not coming to polling stations as they have no confidence in the election system.
After casting his vote at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College voting centre, Dr Kamal Hossain said one of the reasons behind the low turnout can be that voters’ lack of confidence in the electoral system.
“I’m not satisfied at all with the voter turnout. It takes a long time to cast vote. Among 2,600 voters, less than a hundred votes were cast by 10:30am,” he said, UNB news agency reported.
Awami league’s Mayor Atiqul Islam said that the low turnout of voters was a hint to the fact that the country was developing. He said that the voter turnout remains low in developed countries.
EC Mahbub Talukdar, however, was happy with the electronic voting machines (EVMs) which he said helped reduce the problem of overcastting of votes sometimes even to the tune of 100 percent. He also mentoned the absence of polling agents from the main opposition BNP candidates in the 12 or so centres he visited during the polling. He said he did not know the reason behind their absence.
BNP’s Mayor candidates both Tabith Awal and Ishraque Hossain told the media that their polling agents were not allowed to enter some centres while their agents were driven out from some others.
AL’s mayor candidate Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said that the absence of BNP’s polling agents in some centres might be a reflection of their organisational weakness.
The presence or absence of polling agents at the centres might have had an important bearing on the casting of votes because it was the first encounter of Dhaka’s voters with EVMs and the men behind those machines had an important role to play to ensure that the votes were cast properly.
In at least two incidents from the Uttara area under the Dhaka North City, the roles played by them men behind the machines discouraged at least two families from going to polling stations. In one case a university-going students was shown the EVM buttons he was to push by such a man. In casting the vote for the mayor the student pushed a different button. Agry the man asked, ‘what you have done?’ The student replied it was a mistake. The man behind the machines then cast two other councillor votes himself without uttering a second word. And the students’ voting was over.
In the second incident a private office-goer was shown three buttons he was to push to cast votes. Like the student mentioned above, as he pushed a different button for the post of mayor, he was rebuked by the man behind the machines who remarked, ‘how being a resident of Uttara he could cast his vote for a different candidate? The man then cast the votes of councillors himself.
It was a different story for a senior businessman voter in the Lalbagh area of the city. He said he went to cast his vote with great interest. The polling official identified the genuineness of his being a voter by taking his finger print on the machine. Another person marked his finger with a signing pen. Immediately after a man behind the machines said his voting was over.
Traditionally local elections like those of the Dhaka city corporation generate much enthusiasm as burning local issues become the bargains for elections. Plus there are multiple seats a voter can vote for and many local candidates remain in grays giving a voter multiplicity of choices. The just concluded Dhaka City elections are an exception as viewed from this perspective the elections failed to evoke interest in about 70 to 75 percent of voters.
On Saturday night as BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir announced a dawn to dusk hartal for Sunday rejecting the results of the elections, AL joint secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif in s statement issued to the press sounded a note of warning against what he termed ‘destructive activities’.
The key question that remains unanswered is whether non-participation of 70-75 percent of voters in the election will have any bearing on the acceptance of those declared elected.