“A win in any election of a particular candidate or party through unfair means such as manipulation, coercion, intimidation and exerting undue influence upon the government machinery, is actually a defeat for democracy.”
What the port city has offered in the name of an election can in no way match the true meaning of election.
Take some examples of unwarranted incidents that became headlines in the media within hours of the beginning of voting in Chattogram city.
Morshed Akter Chowdhury, an Awami League dissident councillor candidate, boycotted the election terming it a "farce". Police arrested Ismail Hossain Bali, a BNP-backed councillor candidate for another ward, from his home at Patharghata after clashes had ensued between his and AL candidate's supporters.
However, none from the ruling party camp was detained.
In another ward in the Pahartoli area of the city, a pedestrian named Alauddin was killed during a clash between the supporters of AL-backed councillor candidate Wasim Uddin and AL dissident Mahmudur Rahman.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) at different centres were found to have one person with each voter in a secret voting room. Moreover, some voters alleged that their votes had been cast before they reached polling stations.
None of the above incidents is desired in an election, which is a process in which people vote to choose a person or group of people to hold official positions. In this process, nothing is more important than voters who decide the outcomes of the race.
This is why Sir Winston Churchill more than seven decades ago beautifully summed up the importance of voters in democracy: "At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point."
In 2011, our Supreme Court in a verdict in the 13th Constitutional amendment case, which declared the non-partisan caretaker government system unconstitutional as none is elected by people to run the makeshift election-time administration, referred to the "little man" remark, stressing the need for ensuring a congenial atmosphere for holding a free and fair election.
"Sir Winston Churchill's little man must be able to walk into the little booth with a little pencil to make a little cross on a little bit of paper freely and fairly. And if the little man cannot walk into the little booth with the little pencil to make his little cross on a little bit of paper to select his own representative, then democracy shall be a far cry and shall be in the Constitution only for the psychological satisfaction of the people of this country."
But in the battle of ballots in Chattogram City Corporation, the "little man" mattered little.
Many polling stations wore a deserted look after lunch hours due to violent incidents in the early hours of voting.
Local ruling party men emerged opponents to their own party men for many councillor posts, increasing the mercury of the election. They were desperate to win the polls by any means which resulted in the deterioration of the law and order situation.
It was clear weeks ago that violence and anomalies might mar the election as desperate supporters of local ruling party-backed councillor candidates and their main challengers, who also belong to the same party, engaged in clashes during electioneering, killing two people. Some incidents of violence took place in the municipality polls being held in phases since last month.
The Election Commission all along appeared to be a silent spectator though it is the supreme authority for ensuring a free and fair election. The electoral anomalies indicate that the EC failed to discharge its duties to ensure a level playing field for all. The role of the local administration has also been questioned.
What could the EC do?
The EC has unlimited power to take measures or direct anybody engaged in election duties to take actions needed for holding a free and fair election. If the local administration fails to ensure an atmosphere congenial to election, the EC can even postpone the election and ask the government policymakers to provide assistance required for holding the election.
No such strong move was taken by the EC to make the election peaceful in the port city. It just performed the "Constitutional" duties of holding the election but bothered little about its quality – whether it is fair or not.
What the apex court observed in the caretaker government system cancellation judgement is still pertinent: "A win in any election of a particular candidate or party through unfair means such as manipulation, coercion, intimidation and exerting undue influence upon the government machinery, is actually a defeat for democracy."
The writer is the Deputy Executive Editor of The Business Standard