Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bangladesh election day, and beyond

This page contain a rolling blog containing news, commentary, and analysis on Bangladesh's 'election' day, 5 January 2014 until 7 May.

For subsequent comment and analysis on post election Bangladesh go to to the home page and see separate posts.

To see page dealing with the earlier period of 30 December to 4 May, go here
To see page dealing with the earlier period of 23-29 December, go here
To see page dealing with the earlier period of 18-22 December, go here.


3.10 pm: Is the new crackdown starting?
There has been much talk about a new crackdown starting after the election - not that of course there was not one before the election. And Sheikh Hasina yesterday in her press conference to Bangladesh media talked about coming down hard on 'terrorist activities'. Since 'the opposition' and 'terrorists' are not almost interchangeable words in the Awami League and the prime minister's discourse, so a crackdown on violence means, of course, a crackdown on the BNP/Jamaat.

Anyway, this is all introductory to saying that Khondaker Mahbub Hossain, the senior lawyer and BNP adviser has just been arrested outside the Supreme Court premises The International Community speaks
Statements from some of the key international players have now been published. The US statement is the strongest in specifically calling for the parties 'to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people.' (emphasis added). The UN statement also refered directly to discussion for elections calling on the political parties  'to resume meaningful dialogue and to urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process.'

The UK and Commonwealth, whilst criticising the election, does not specifically call for new elections.   The UK says: 'We therefore urge the new government and all political parties to act in line with the interests of the people of Bangladesh.' And the commonwealth says: 'it is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed.'

The Canadian statement does refer to new elections, though no time frame is stated. It says, "Canada welcomes the major parties’ willingness to consider holding a new national election and urges all parties to reach an agreement soon that would allow the next election to be truly participatory, with results that all Bangladeshis will see as credible.” The statement is otherwise a bit less critical of the elections than the other statements.

The Indian government's statement is the only supportive statement on the current elections. So far there is no European Union statement, however the EU's Asia working group will be sitting tomorrow in Brussels and a statement may soon be published after that.

Below are the statements in full

The United States, in a statement given by Marie Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson, said:
The United States is disappointed by the recent Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people.

While it remains to be seen what form the new government will take, United States commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished. To that end, we encourage the Government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people. 
We condemn in the strongest terms the violence from all quarters that continues to mark the prevailing political impasse. Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process; we call on all to stop committing further violence. Bangladesh’s political leadership – and those who aspire to lead – must do everything in their power to ensure law and order and refrain from supporting and fomenting violence, especially against minority communities, inflammatory rhetoric, and intimidation.

In the coming days, as Bangladesh seeks a way forward that is in keeping with its strong democratic traditions, we call upon the Government of Bangladesh to provide political space to all citizens to freely express their political views. We also call strongly on the opposition to use such space peacefully and responsibly, and for all sides to eschew violence, which is not part of democratic practice and must stop immediately. 
And the following was said in a press briefing
QUESTION: -- you have called for fresh elections in Bangladesh. Do you think this – the new government formed after this election which you say is not credible and free and fair is a legitimate government? Are you planning to work with the new government?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear about our strong concerns about the selection and what we think the way forward should be. We believe Bangladesh still has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to democracy by organizing free and fair elections that are credible in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people. We did note that we were disappointed by the recent parliamentary elections, especially because so many of the seats were uncontested or only had token opposition. Obviously, we believe going forward things should be done very differently. .....
QUESTION: And what do you think (inaudible) Bangladesh – because this is the first time in many, many years that when – as far as democratic elections in Bangladesh are concerned, violence and demonstrations and all those kind of – took place because of past events between the two parties and groups and all – so forth. So what is the future, you think, now?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that Bangladesh still has a chance to have a different future, that we obviously condemn in the strongest terms the violence coming from all quarters, believe that violence has no place in a democratic process, and encourage Bangladesh going forward – the parties – all parties and all sides – to come together and move away from that kind of violence.
The British government has also issued a statement. It stated
The 10th Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh see the Awami League return to government with over half of Bangladesh’s constituencies uncontested. Commenting on the election results, Senior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi said:
"We note the announcement of the results of the 10th Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh; an election called in accordance with Bangladesh’s Constitution.
Like others in the International Community the UK believes that the true mark of a mature, functioning democracy is peaceful, credible elections that express the genuine will of the voters. It is therefore disappointing that voters in more than half the constituencies did not have the opportunity to express their will at the ballot box and that turnout in most other constituencies was low. 
We deplore the acts of intimidation and unlawful violence from all parties that have taken place in recent weeks and the arson attacks on public buildings, including schools and colleges, which have been reported over the weekend. 
We are deeply concerned at the deaths of so many people, political harassment and the heightened political tensions which underlie them. All Bangladesh’s political parties share a clear and unequivocal responsibility to work together to strengthen democratic accountability as an urgent priority and to build the willingness and capacity to hold future participatory elections without the fear of intimidation or reprisals. 
We therefore urge the new government and all political parties to act in line with the interests of the people of Bangladesh. 
Bangladesh is an important partner for the UK and we continue to support its people in their aspirations for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future. "
 And here is the statement by given by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma
“The Commonwealth has been following closely the situation in Bangladesh relating to the parliamentary elections held on 5 January 2014. 
“The limited levels of participation and the low voter turnout are disappointing. The acts of violence are deeply troubling and indeed are unacceptable in response to any political situation.
“In the Commonwealth Charter, it is a shared responsibility of governments, political parties and civil society to uphold and promote democratic culture, including the inalienable right of individuals to participate in free and fair elections. 
“Therefore, it is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed. 
“The Commonwealth remains ready and willing to assist Bangladesh in advancing democratic cultures and processes, freedom of expression, the rule of law and our other shared core values, just as we offer this support to all our member countries.”
And the statement from the Canadian government given by the foreign affairs minister, John Baird.
“Canada joins the United States and the European Union in expressing regrets that the major political parties in Bangladesh were unable to negotiate a solution that would have enabled a fully participatory election on January 5, 2014. The availability of individual choice is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.
“It is therefore extremely disappointing that more than half of the country’s parliamentary seats were not contested freely, but instead were filled through acclamation.
“Canada notes with dismay the violence and controversy that marred the electoral period. Hundreds of Bangladeshi citizens were killed in political violence in 2013. We condemn this violence in the strongest terms, particularly the senseless attacks on the most vulnerable citizens—children, women, and religious and ethnic minorities. Violence as a political strategy is unacceptable. Canada calls on all parties to publicly renounce and condemn political violence.
“Political instability has bred economic instability, which has caused long-term damage to Bangladesh’s economy and may continue to do so. We fear that this damage has undermined Bangladesh’s economic progress and developmental path.
“Canada calls on all parties to look beyond their immediate political concerns and work cooperatively to focus nationally on Bangladesh’s development and its bright future.
“Canada welcomes the major parties’ willingness to consider holding a new national election and urges all parties to reach an agreement soon that would allow the next election to be truly participatory, with results that all Bangladeshis will see as credible.”
On 5th January, the day of the elections, Indian government's Official Spokesperson stated:
"Elections in Bangladesh on 5th January were a constitutional requirement. They are a part of the internal and constitutional process of Bangladesh. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their own future and choose their representatives in a manner that responds to their aspirations. Violence cannot and should not determine the way forward. The democratic processes must be allowed to take their own course in Bangladesh.”
The UN Secretary General also issued a statement:
The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life and incidents of violence that marred yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, which were characterised by polarisation and low participation. He regrets that the parties did not reach the kind of agreements which could have produced a peaceful, all-inclusive election outcome. 
He calls on all sides to exercise restraint and ensure first and foremost a peaceful and conducive environment, where people can maintain their right to assembly and expression. Violence and attacks on people and property can never be acceptable. 
The Secretary-General calls on the political parties to resume meaningful dialogue and to urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process. The UN will continue to support the country’s democratic processes in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, non-violence, reconciliation and dialogue.


12.00 pm: Rigging the  the turnout?
A number of Bangladesh papers have articles which suggest that there may have been rigging - perhaps substantial rigging - of the turnout figures.

New Age has this article, Late surge in turnout to prop up figure. This states
Voter turnout surged during later polling hours in a number of centres of the national elections on Sunday which many believe was part of an attempt by ruling alliance activists to prop up the turnout figure. ...
The turnout more than doubled in two of the six polling centres at the Banani school past noon as groups of ruling party activists, aided by the police, moved from one booth to another, indiscriminately stamping ballot papers. In one booth, a polling officer stamped a file of ballot papers.
At the two centers at the TNT girls’ college, the turnout jumped from a paltry 49 and 80 to 734 and 535 as ruling party activists, in police escort, took over booths, casting out the polling officer and stamped the ballot papers.
At Dakkinkhan, ruling party activists harassed a New Age reporter witnessing the incident and tried to throw him out while polling officers requested him to stay put to ‘save them from danger.’
Turnout at the three centers there jumped from 794 to 1,863 in about an hour and a quarter. ....
In all three centres, activists, led by local Awami League leaders, cast votes repeatedly on behalf of the candidate of the BNF party.
And in the Dhaka Tribune: Kamal Mojumders men throw reporters out of polling centers
The Monipur High School polling centre in the capital’s Mirpur area under the Dhaka 15 constituency has been left empty since 2:45pm. No journalist or observer could be seen anywhere around.
When the Dhaka Tribune correspondent got in, supporters of Awami Leauge candidate Kamal Ahmed Majumder snatched her mobile phone. She managed to escape their rage somehow with the help of a photojournalist and met many other journalists outside the centre. They said they had all been thrown out of the centre by the same men.
At least 50 of Kamal’s supporters could be seen in the various booths inside the centre, vigorously stamping seals on the “boat,” on one ballot paper after another. They were all wearing badges that carried Kamal’s photo and name.
And the Daily Star: Puzzling Turnout - low in the day, high at night
The turnout at Matuail Adarsha High School polling centre was only 16.5 percent as of midday yesterday. But in the last two hours, it rose to 42 percent, thanks to false votes cast by polling agents and supporters of the Awami League candidate.
A team from The Daily Star was present at the centre in Dhaka-5 throughout the day. It saw a few AL activists frequently entering and exiting the centre's seven booths. They were casting false votes aided by the polling agents.
From 8:00am to 2:00pm, 711 votes were cast. The number finally stood at 1,807, showing that 1,096 votes were cast in last two hours.
The number of voters of the centre is 4,298, all of whom are male. In the first six hours, the average rate of votes cast at the seven booths was 118.5 per hour, while in the last two hours it was 548.
9.45 am: Is 40 percent enough for the government?
Let us assume that voter turnout in the 147 constituencies was about 40 percent as it appears the election commission will claim  - will this be enough for the government to sell the election nationally and internationally?

One must of course remember that the voting only took place in 147 of the 300 constituencies and in 153 seats there was no election as each had a single unopposed candidate. So whatever the turnout for the 147 seats yesterday, half the country had no ability to vote - and this is of course one of the reasons why Bangladeshis and the international community have raised so many questions about the election.

Now lets look at this 40%. If you look at all the recent polls undertaken in the last year, the Awami League' obtained between 32 to 37 percent. 40 percent therefore can be said to comprise its supporters, its vote bank, but not very much more. Or to put it another way, very few voters other than those who support the government voted.

Arguably, however, one could argue that the government could not really have expected to get more than their own supporters to vote in this election- since there were no opposition parties for people to vote for. Getting 40 percent shows that they have the loyal support of their own supporters.

In the last election there was 87 percent turnout - so 40% is considerably less, half the level of the previous election.

The Bangladesh government is likely to point out that in many elections in the West where the turnout can sometimes fall as low as 40% - however in the UK, which the Bangladesh election commission mentioned yesterday, that is only in local elections and European parliamentary election, not in national parliamentary elections where in the last elections the turnout was 65%.

One issue of course about the turnout is that it is hugely variable from one part of the country to another - 10% in some constituencies to 90% in other.

However, even if the 40% figure is correct, another issue is whether people in Bangladesh will believe it to be so - or whether the opposition can convince people that the government has rigged the turnout

8.50 am: Selling the election
The government now have to somehow to sell the election to the people of Bangladesh - and here is Sajeeb Wajed on his facebook page.
Media is reporting that overall voter turnout so far is about 40% and rising. In two whole districts, comprised of 4-5 Parliamentary constituencies, voter turnout was 51%. In Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s home district of Gopalganj voter turnout was 96%. We don’t have final official numbers as vote count is ongoing, but centers with greater number of votes cast take longer to tally so those results come in later. Thus the voter turnout count continues to rise. The average voter turnout for all national elections in Bangladesh is under 60%. 
The BNP-Jamaat have continued their attacks non-stop. They have set fire to several polling centers and innocent civilians. They beat one election officer to death and smashed another’s hands. They’ve stabbed and attacked some of our party’s election workers and several voters after they voted. 
Fortunately, the Government was able to prevent violence in most places. Only 160 or so polling centers were affected out of 18,000, about 0.8%. Approximately 10,000 domestic polling observers, several South Asian poll observers, 20 or so TV channels and innumerable newspapers have monitored these polls. No voting irregularities have been reported. 
Voter turnout was slow early in the day because of fear of attacks. I have no doubt that if the BNP-Jamaat had not continued their terror attacks voter turnout would cross 50%.
Well it is simply not possible to say that 'no voting irregularities have been reported' - the local newspapers are full of them. But it remains unclear whether they are isolated events or something more widespread.

Sajeeb is right of course to suggest that whatever the turnout was, it would have been greater had there been no opposition violence.

6.00 am: Election commission voter turnout figures suggest 38% turnout
The headline in the Daily Star today states, 'Lowest turnout in deadliest polls' and the article states that there was a 'very low voter turnout, seemingly the lowest ever' - referring to the 1996 turnout level of 26%. The paper of course is not alone. A very low turnout appears to be a consensus of many of the papers.

However, analysis by Bangladesh Politico of 120 of the 147 constituencies where there has been a full count of the votes suggests that the turnout will be claimed by the election commission to be considerablty higher.

Using information contained on the Dhaka Tribune's terrific election database along with assistance from our own voter registration data, I have put together a table which contains for each of these 80 constituencies: (a) numbers of people that voted; (b) total number of registered vote and (c) the percentage of registered voters that voted. I must assume that the information contained in DT's database came from the electoral commission or from returning officers

As you can see from this table the average voter turnout is 38% - ranging from 9% to 90%. This on average is far higher than expected.

Election Commissioner Abu Hafiz told reporters during the day, “We will be happy if turnout is over 40 percent. Such numbers are cast in Great Britain. It is considered standard there.”

Hafiz is certainly wrong about general elections in GB - in 2010 it was 65.1%, in 2005 it was 61.4% and in 2001 it was 59.4% - however it appears that the turnout will be close to this 40% figure

There will, I suggest, be a lot of people who do not believe these figures. One thing to note however is that most Dhaka based journalists will only have seen Dhaka constituencies and almost all of these had low counts. Journalists may well have been misled by what was going on in Dhaka. However, reports from the districts did also suggest a low turnout - so there is likely to be significant debate about the integrity of these figures.

In the 2009 election the turnout was 87% - so 38% is considerably less than this. But it is also much higher than the 20% that people were suggesting would be the turnout level. A 40% rate could considerably strengthen the government's position, suggesting that the elections do have more public support than suggested.

            Nos voters  
Maulvibazaar 1
Dhaka 15
Bogra 4
Chittaong 11
Dhaka 4
Jhenaidh 3
Shatkira 2
Rangpur 3
Dhaka 16
Maulvibazaar 2
Dhaka 6
Feni 3
Comilla 4
Dinajpur 4
Sylhet 2
Tangail 6
Chittagong 9
Dhaka 17
Nilphamari 1
Dhaka 7
Panchargarh 1
Rajshahi 3
Mymensingh 7
Narsingdi 1
Naogaon 4
Sylhet 4
Kunigram 4
Lalmonhirat 3
Dhaka 1
Dhaka 5
Barisal 3
Kunigram 1
Khulna 2
Manikganj 1
Netrokona 1
Mymensingh 3
Naogaon 5
Khulna 3
Shatkira 1
Pabna 3
Jhenaidh 2
Chittagong 15
Kishoreganj 3
Bagherat 4
Sirajganj 5
Narshingi 2
Pirojpur 3
Jessore 6
Jessore 4
Magura 1
Habiganj 2
Rajshai 6
Dhaka 18
Netrokona 2
Pabna 1
Chuadanga 2
Patuakhali 1
Sunamganj 1
Naogaon 3
Jhenaidh 4
Sunamganj 3
Comilla 8
Magura 2
Chapai Nawabganj 2
Sherpur 3
Tangail 5
Thakurgaon 3
Meherpur 1
Natore 3
Kushtia 4
Habiganj 4
Chittagong 2
Mymensingh 11
Jessore 2
Meherpur 2
Panchargarh 2
Comilla 3
Habigang 3
Chuadanga 1
BArguna 1
Narail 2
Khulna 1
Narsingdi 3
Chittagong 4
Noakali 6
Tangail 2
Sunamganj 5
Cox’s Bazaar 4
Dinajpur 1
Narayanganj 1
Munshiganj 2
Gazipur 4
Munshiganj 1
Jhenaidh 1
Comilla 9
Brahmanbaria 5
Chittagong 12
Barisal 2
Sherpur 2
Chittagong 16
Barguna 2
Burgana 2
Comilla 1
Rangpur 6
Mymensigh 6
Netrokona 3
Jhalkota 1
Mymensingh 10
Bhola 2
Chittagong 3
Comilla 5
Sherpur 1
Chittagong 13
Lalmonhirat 1
Bhola 3
Gopalganj 1
Gopalganj 3
Gopalganj 2


4.45 pm: 'We had no choice but to conduct the elections'
An argument that is now being made by the government is that it had no choice other to conduct the elections, as otherwise, after 24 January - when its five year term comes to an end - there would be no authority in power to run the country.

However, this is only one reading of the constitution. There is another reading of article 123 of the constitution that would have allowed the elections to be postponed for a further 3 months after 24 January.

Whether this additional 3 months would have mattered though is a different matter - as there was no indication that the government and the opposition would have  come to any compromise in that period.

To some extent, with no compromise possible between the parties, it kind of makes sense for these elections to take place now - as long however as the new government is committed to immediately negotiating with the opposition to agree the conditions of a new election to take place in which the opposition can agree to take part. I am not quite sure, however, if they really are

3.40 pm: Death toll increases to 11
Daily Star is reporting 11 people have died - 10 activists of the opposition, and 1 law enforcement personel

3.20 pm: The 'greatest hyperbole' in pre-election Bangladesh politics
And number 6 on my list of the 'big-est, most-est, best-est' of Bangladesh pre-election politics is the 'biggest hyperbole". (See 1. 'most responsible for mess that we are in'; 2. 'most responsible for absence of election observers'; 3 'biggest strategic error'; 4, 'boldest intervention' and 5. 'Most absurd moment')

There is no political speech in Bangladesh which is not hyperbolic – and so this is a difficult one. In the end it was a toss up between two hyperbolic statements – one by the government and one by the opposition.

The government statement involved its description of the international crimes tribunal as being of ‘international standard.’ This was not something that was said once or even twice it was said relentlessly by many ministers, over a long period of time, and is still being said. The absurdity of the claim should be clear to anyone who has any ability to assess the tribunals from an informed and independent minded position. This is not about international standards or not, this is about whether the tribunal even reaches a basic fair standard.

However, in the end that was not the hyperbole that topped the list. It was the opposition claim that thousands died in a ‘massacre’ on the early morning of 6 May Hefazet meeting. There were indeed deaths from police shooting. In Dhaka at least 24 died during the day of the 5th. And in Narayanganj, another 15 or 20 people are also reported to have died – making estimates of between 40 to 60 deaths about right.

However the opposition – along with Hefazet itself – argued that 'thousands' had died in the early hours of the 6th when law enforcement authorities pushed the protestors to leave. There was undoubtedly police brutality – but no evidence of any significant number of deaths in that operation, and if there were, it was only any only a handful.

However, this totally unsubstantially claim, soon became a ‘truth’. And these untruthful claims of Hefazet and others helped the BNP to win the city corporation elections earlier in 2013. When it became crystal clear that there nowhere near that number of deaths occurred, the opposition never apologized.

One should note that my view of this hyperbole should not get confused with the inappropriate action that the government took in relation to the publication by Odhikar of its report that claimed 60 people who died.

12.40 pm: Six reported dead
Daily Star is reporting six deaths in different incidents around the country, from the earlly hours of teh morning, all of them opposition activists - most supposedly shot dead in the process of trying to foil the elections.

In Dhaka, a few people are reported injured when a crude bomb was thrown at a polling station at Dania in Dhaka.

12.35 pm: The'Most absurd moment' in the pre-election period

And number 5 on my list of the 'big-est, most-est, best-est' of Bangladesh pre-election politics is the 'most absurd movement". (See 1. 'most responsible for mess that we are in', and 2. 'most responsible for absence of election observers', and 3 'biggest strategic error', and 4, 'boldest intervention')

This is an easy one. It has to be THE telephone conversation. Of course we have to thank the Bangladesh government authorities or intelligence agencies for illegally recording the one and only telephone conversation between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia and then making it available to a TV station.  

Not only of course was the converation between the two women surreal – arguing for minutes on end about the read phone, but it revealed to everyone how much Bangladesh needed new leadership. So not just the most surreal moment, perhaps also the most educational! And just in case you missed it, here is an extract of the 'Red Phone' sketch, brought to us courtesy of the two ladies.
Hasina: I called you around noon, but unfortunately you didn’t pick up. I want to invite you.
Khaleda: This is not correct. You have to listen to what I have to say. You say you called in the afternoon, but I received no call. The hotline has been inactive for years now.
Hasina: But I called to the red phone personally.
Khaleda: The red phone has been dead for a long a time. You run the government, and you don’t even know the Opposition Leader’s phone is dead.
Hasina: Red phone is never out of order.
Khaleda Zia: Send your people over right now, and let them check.
Hasina: You know that red phone always works.
Khaleda: It always works, but mine is not working at all. I checked it just recently. If you don’t tell the truth, it will not work.
Hasina: There’s nothing I can do if you lie. I know I have called several times.
Khaleda: Can a dead person come alive? How can a dead phone come to life all of a sudden?
Hasina: Ok, so for some reason you weren’t able to receive the phone.
Khaleda: No, that is not true. I have been sitting here. It is a small space. I cannot miss a phone call. There is no reason not to answer if a phone call comes.
Hasina: The phone was either dead or kept dead…
Khaleda: It was dead. Several complaints were made. There is no one I can talk with through the red phone. Thus, who will I talk with?
Hasina: I will look into why your phone was dead tomorrow.
Khaleda: It is good that you will see to it. .......
Hasina: Your phone is all right.
Khaleda: My phone is not okay.
Hasina: I called up 10-12 times. The phone rang.
Khaleda: Do you think we were all deaf? That the phone rang and we did not hear? You might hear it.
Hasina: How will I hear? One of my ear is damaged.
Khaleda: It is you who have said that my phone had rang, but we are saying that it didn’t.
Hasina: Phone…… Phone, I made the call myself.
Khaleda: It does not matter if you say you have called. You are saying that a dead phone has rung.
Hasina: The phone rang.
Khaleda: How will it ring? A dead phone does not ring. This is a display of your mentality, and it shows if you are telling the truth or not.
Hasina: I am telling the truth.
Khaleda: I checked the phone yesterday [Saturday]. We told your people that the phone was dead, but no one came. Nobody thinks of us as human, nobody feels it important to fix our telephone.
Hasina: Why are you blaming the telephone and telling a lie?
Khaleda: [snaps] Why will I tell lies? A dead telephone is dead.
Hasina: …21602, I remember.
Khaleda: You might have the number memorised, or written down somewhere nearby, but the fact is that the telephone is dead. Nobody will believe anything else otherwise.
Hasina: A cameraman once came…This is nothing. The telephone exchange can be contacted to know what had really happened…
Khaleda: Who of Gulshan Exchange said that the phone was ringing? Actions should be taken against that person.
Hasina: The red telephone of yours belongs to a separate exchange.
Khaleda: That is true…Why is it being said that the phone was okay…Did the person you spoke to tell you as such? I was sitting here waiting for the phone call. We talked over the phone many times, during anti-Ershad campaigns that we waged together. Why will we not talk? We talked so many times, went to your home, why not talk now? Come let us sit together for talks for the sake of the country.

12.30 pm: Dhaka 7 - continuding indications of low turnout
Another polling station in Azimpur, Old Dhaka, in same constituency also suggested that by 11 am - three hours since polling station opened, that there was likely to be a low turnout. At the station, there are 2,996 female voters registered, but only 60 had voted. And there were 3,702 male voters registered and only 156 had voted.

10.30 pm: Dhaka 7 - indications of low turnout 
This is one of the most competitive elections in country, but all indications are that even here there will be a low turnout.  I have visited two polling centers. One was practically empty when you would expect to see hoards of people and queues, the other just a little busier. 

In the first centre at Bodrunassa college in Bakshi bazaar there were 2541 voters registered, but by 10 am only about 38 people had voted, 11 of them women. The polls opened at 8 am

In the other at an Alia Madrasa just 2 minutes away by rickshaw, 235 people had voted out of over 5000 people registered

9.40 am: Empty Dhaka streets
Don't think I have ever seen Dhaka so empty as today. BNP strikes have never been able to empty the city streets quite so much.

8.45 am: Interesting constituency elections
There remain some constituencies where there is a real election taking place, mostly due to dissident Awami League candidates taking on the official one. One such is Dhaka 7 which covers Lalbagh, Chawkbazar, Kotwali and Bangshal and where Mostafa Jalal Mohiuddin, the official AL candidate is taking on Haji Selim who is campaigning as an independent candidate, who is also a joint secretary of the Dhaka Metropolitan unit of Awami League. In the 1996 national elections, Haji Selim left BNP and won Dhaka 7 constituency with an Awami League’s nomination. In 2008, however, Selim did not get the party ticket. It seems from this article that Haji Selim is getting some BNP support. In recent days some of Mohiuddin's supporters have come under attack

Only 7 of Dhaka's 15 constituencies have an election today

I shall be off there shortly to see what is going on

8.20 am: The 'boldest intervention'
And number 4 on my list of the 'big-est, most-est, best-est' of Bangladesh pre-election politics is the 'boldest intervention (See 1. 'most responsible for mess that we are in', and 2. 'most responsible for absence of election observers', and 3 'biggest strategic error'.)

There have no doubt many heroic interventions that have taken place involving people saving lives during the violence that has ensued over the months, that I am unaware. Also, the editor of the newspaper where I work, Nurul Kabir is certainly known for his boldness on TV chat shows. And my choice is perhaps has a serious English language bias, ut the one person I think who deserves to be mentioned as making the boldest intervention over many months and who has been a clarion call for many is the editor of theDaily Star, Mahfuz Anam

One many not always agree with his or the papers views (though whatever you say of them they are honestly held) but in relation to his criticism of the government and in particular the way it has handled the election issue, there is no one who has written more persuasively, more boldly than he has done. There is in many ways in Bangladesh a thriving media, nonetheless it takes some guts to take on the prime minister directly which he has done through his writing – naming her directly, attacking her for her faulty decision making. There are many who think after 5 January, in the new repressive Bangladesh that many people fear, he or his paper may well pay the price for it. I certainly hope not. His many interventions, under his own name, and often starting on the front page of his paper, deserve to be recognised.

8.00 am: The 'biggest strategic error' in the run up to today
Continuing my thoughts of the 'big-est, most-est, best-est' of Bangladesh pre-election politics, here is my view on number 3 on the list, the 'biggest strategic error'. (See 1. most responsible for mess that we are in, and 2. most responsible for absence of election observers)

There are many strategic mistakes to choose from of course: the decision by the Khaleda Zia to snub Hasina’s invitation to have tea with her in the infamous phone conversation; or the decision by the government to send law enforcement officials to ‘arrest’ General Ershad in full glare of the cameras when all he had done was to say he did not want to take part in the elections; or the failure of the opposition leaders to take any proper steps to ensure that its protests would not result in bombings of the public; or the government’s decision to put Khaleda Zia under house arrest; or indeed the failure of the BNP to dissociate itself from the Jamaat-e-Islami. All of these – and many more – have done serious damage to the AL and the BNP respectively.

However, my choice – which is I know is contentious - is none of these. It was BNP’s decision to decide not to take part in the elections.

Now this is not to say that the BNP did not have very good reason to think that it should not take part in the elections under a political government. As I have said behind all of the problems we are in now, is that one decision by the prime minister to remove the caretaker government provisions without public and political consensus. It was perfectly reasonable for the BNP to be astounded at how the caretaker provisions were removed from the constitution, and to be highly suspicious of the government’s motives. However, whilst it would have been a risk, a big one I appreciate, nonetheless for the BNP both then, and even more so in hindsight, it would have been a risk worth taking. And their failure to take that decision in August/September of this year has meant dozens of deaths, a country in crisis, the Awami League in power and the BNP at a loss. 

This is why. In polls in July and September 2013, the BNP were running high in the polls, and the party knew it. It had the country behind it in its demand for a caretaker government, it had taken a decision not to proceed with hartals – which was popular. The political violence that existed in the country was then not the fault of the BNP. 

Yes, had it agreed to have taken part in the polls, the government would be in charge of the administration, the police, and there was reasons for it to be concerned about the independence of the election commission. But had the BNP properly and genuinely negotiated at an early stage, the AL would have given it something, at the very least seats in an all party government. Not ideal, but from that position, it could have had some significant influence on what took place during the election period – even if Sheikh Hasina remained prime minister. Also, had the BNP decided to take part of the elections, there would have been great pressure on the Election Commission (pressure which simply does not exist now) to have acted much more independently. I am sure there would have been civil adminstration transfers etc - perhaps not as many as the BNP would like, but enough. Moreover there would also  have been significant international monitoring, particular the parallel vote tabulation - the biggest one in the world was being planned - which would have ensured, at least,  no manipulation of election results once the votes are counted at each polling centre.

No doubt if the government and local lawmakers wanted, and there would have been some manipulation in the voting, but with BNP's lead as it was then, it would have been unlikely to have been large enough to make a difference and/or it would have been easily identifiable - and the international community would have 'called it'.

Now however, the people of Bangladesh have seen BNP at its worst – with some of the worst violence in the country’s political history being blamed on their supporters. And the party’s lead looks like it may well be waning – or indeed to have already waned.  Where is the BNP now? Out of power, weakened, far less popular than it was five months ago. It should have taken that risk - and participated in the elections. My guess it would have won. Now, even if it had those free and fair elections which it has been demanding for so long - it may well not win!

2.30 am: Election day papers
The key news is the number of polling stations that have been set on fire, with New Age stating that over 100 stations in different schools have been burnt down throughout the whole country. There are also reports of an assistant presiding officer from Thakurgaon-1 constituency being beaten to death.

The Daily Star has a story on the attempts by the Awami League to get a good turnout.

The paper has also an interesting comparison between 2013 and 1996 when there was a similiar one-sided election. It notes that in 1996 when the Awami League was in BNP's position:
The AL enforced a 48-hour countrywide hartal before election day. Their activists snatched away ballot papers and ballot boxes in many districts including Barisal, Tangail, Netrakona, Pabna and Nilphamari. They also set polling stations on fire in some districts.
The violent protests on polling day had left at least 10 people killed. Voting in more than 2,800 polling stations in 59 districts had to be suspended due to the opposition's protests.
It also says that the one consistent party in all this has been the Jamaat-e-Islami which was with the AL in 1996 demanding the caretaker government and with the BNP in 2013.

The Daily Star also has a good piece on how one sided elections provide opportunities for rigging turnout

It was only a matter of time of course before the pro-government 'civil society' members to raise their voices, and a couple of reports have been published about a meeting. One states:
Information Commissioner Sadeka Halim said civil society organisations were run by money from the development partners. “But which citizens they represent? And whose voices are they raising?”
Slating the development partners, she said, “Had they ever been a friend of Bangladesh? They were opposed to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Now they've come forward to save the war criminals. They've even phoned the prime minister.”
Prof Salimullah Khan of Stamford University complained that the “so called” civil society was engaged in a conspiracy as they never praised the government for its achievements.
“They even criticise the achievements of the government,” he mentioned, adding that without doing much homework the country will not be able to counter the conspiracy of the foreigners and the civil society.
Historian Mejbah Kamal said a section of intellectuals are talking in a way nowadays that they want to implement the “minus-two formula,” and they also are saying that the two leaders are useless.
“They are virtually trying to say that the battle is actually between the two ladies. But I clearly think that it is not a battle between the two ladies. Rather, it's a battle between two ideologies,” he added.
And last but not least, is the excoriating editorial in New Age titled 'History will hold Awami League responsible'. It starts:
Bangladesh witnesses the most farcical elections ever held under an elected government today. It is farcical not only because the entire opposition political camps have boycotted the polls in the apprehension of the elections being rigged by the incumbents but also because 153 seats of the 300-member national parliament have already been captured by the candidates of the ruling coalition without a single vote being cast because of a subjugated Election Commission declaring them elected unopposed, depriving 52 per cent of the voters of their right to franchise. The government now goes ahead with the elections to the rest 147 seats, in most of which, again, the opposing candidates belong to the ruling coalition. Which polls, if not these, would be called farcical, managed in the name of democratic elections? But the government of the Awami League went ahead with the political farce despite repeated requests from all social and political quarters — not to mention the sustained opposition demand for free and fair participatory elections under a credible, non-party government capable of creating a level playing field for the contesting political camps. Instead of accommodating the opposition demand, the incumbents have chosen to detain its leader, Khaleda Zia, in her house and have arrested hundreds of her party leaders and activists.


  1. I am saddened, but unsurprised that you approach the Dhaka massacre as you have, with ridicule, denial and a demand for a kind of evidence that you wouldn't had the victims inhabited a year like 1971, or been secular. The victims were unarmed, there were many of them.

  2. People in most constituencies preferred being 'Safer' than 'Voter'. In our fptp system, we need 3 votes to be cast, 2 for the winning candidate and 1 for the losing one! :)
    Lets look beyond and work for the possibilities of an inclusive election of the 11th parliament. But widespread violence must stop before the talk begins. New Govt. would be ill-advised not to insist on that.

  3. your perceptions are fair enough. but no one can deny under which circumstances the ruling party forcibly(Kind of) managed this election. They were well aware of the circumstances and consequences and now the victims are suffering. Inspite of putting this police protection outside Begum Zia's house i wish they could appoint those police officers to protect the civilians. RIP democracy, you successfully made people Crazy ...