I find it funny to see that how one of the country’s most important, if not respected, could invite unnecessary trouble and wastage of national energy--- students screaming, religious bodies condemning and our police engaged in ensuring security.
The most recent one is all the hulabula over the 30 January Mayoral elections of Dhaka which coincides with the Saraswati Puja of the Hindu faith. Although, it is not the main religious festival of the community, yet it is a day which has great meaning for the important religious group of the country.
The issue has led to street protests and a writ in the High Court to defer the elections. One wonders why the Election Commission ignored the date and could not fix one that would have not allowed these waste of national energy which could be used on other important issues. The Commission was always under attack by the politicians across the divide and thus it should be careful, including choosing the date of Mayoral elections in Dhaka, judiciously keeping its constitutional obligation intact.
Social media indicates the anger of the people of all ages and all faiths on the choice of the date for an important democratic exercise when it was expected to be careful in not kicking dust over any issue. The Election Commission has maintained, especially after the High Court rejected a writ seeking deferment of the date that the polls would be held on schedule.
One reason might be that it was only a smaller Hindu festival, but it meant that a large number of people, especially the young, would be absent as busy praying to the goddess of learning, wisdom, music, and aesthetics – Saraswati. It is a Thursday and thus many would be at work, taking away another chunk of possible voters, besides the group which does not find it important to exercise their right of franchise.
Thus only a small section of the eligible voters, mainly politicians and activists, remain along with “special followers.” Many are of the opinion that the decision to hold the Mayoral polls on the day of Saraswati Puja clashed with our constitutional as well as our national principle of secularism. Why the Commission abandoned the secular stand remains a million dollar question.
Thus with three-fourth of the electorate apparently not in the process how does the Commission go about holding a true election? At a time when we want the Commission and the politicians to take steps to woo a large number of voters, certainly this step would have a negative impact on the turnout of voters as well as holding meaningful polls in the future.
Turnout indicates the percentage of eligible voters who actually cast their votes. It indicates the interest of voters in election related activities. I would hope that the Commission and politicians join hands defer the Mayoral elections to a later date. Maybe on 01 February, the weekend holiday.
* Writer: Nadeem Qadir, Consulting Editor of the Daily Sun and UN Dag Hammarskjold Fellow
BDST: 1810 HRS, JAN 16, 2020