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Democratic norms and culture vital for a country

No election however can be truly fair and complete without participation of the contending parties. As for 11th parliamentary election, there have been contradictory explanations as to why the opposition Oikyafront candidates rejected results and their agents were absent.

AL maintained that they didn’t turn up because they wanted to make this election questionable, while BNP complained that they were intimidated and kept away from the polling centres. There have been allegations that many of them had been picked up from their homes by law enforcing agents. If there is truth in the allegations, the Election Commission should make a thorough investigation, if at least for the sake of transparency and accountability.

There has been violence in many constituencies resulting in casualties from both sides. AL appears to have taken the brunt of these casualties—14 or so of their supporters died during the last three weeks, but some BNP supporters also were killed and many were injured. . The deaths and injuries indicate a frustrating development in our political culture. It seems that we haven’t learnt in all these years how to conduct elections without casualties and violence and  to pick up some of the basic norms of democratic culture, without which no democracy can function to the satisfaction of the people. If the culture of respecting each other’s views and each other’s private spaces is not established, we will see a recurrence of these tragic events in the future.

Media reports have shown some other irregularities. Some centres had run out of ballot papers before the end of the voting period. In at least two centres in Dhaka, polling officials went on long lunch breaks. In many centres voters with known affiliation to BNP were chased away. The EC said that these were isolated incidents which in no way reflect the general trend which was peaceful and fair. These irregularities, perpetuated over many elections (national, municipal, local) have, unfortunately, become integral to our electoral process. But these should be addressed with all seriousness.

The government should take the opposition in the parliament—whatever its size—into confidence and work together for the country. The party in power should not indulge in the politics of retribution. The government should realise that development is not enough, that strengthening democratic norms and culture is of vital importance for good governance.

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