DR S A Malek

The call for engaging party watchers to guard the polling centres with a view to preventing rigging may be damaging. The question is: how could the watchers of a political party ensure a free and fair election preventing rigging? It is not that the ruling party candidate alone commits rigging. The opposition candidate commits rigging as well, in the area where he has influence. It is found that in the south eastern region of the country, the influence of BNP is much more than Awami League’s, and in the south western region the influence of Awami is bigger than BNP’s. If party watchers were deployed both the parties may rig the election in the areas where they have influence and popularity. The watchers of Awami League and BNP could easily fill the ballot boxes as per their choice if the administration is weak and cannot prevent the onslaught. So the decision to engage party watchers to guard the polling centres would create a chaotic situation. Then a dangerous situation will arise in holding a free and fair election.
The responsibility of holding a free and fair election lies with the Election Commission (EC). The EC has been empowered with law abiding forces under its control. It could even deploy the army for the purpose. Magistrates will move all over the area during election with law enforcers. Anybody taking law in his own hand could be easily dealt with by the law enforcers and the judicial magistrate forthwith. So the deployment of party watchers of both ruling party and the opposition should not be wise. If the election commission does not do this vital job, how can they ensure holding of a free and fair election? If a large numbers of party watchers are present in the polling centres, a small number of law enforcers could not control the situation. In that case the chances become remote to hold a free of elections.
Moreover political rivalry between the ruling party and the opposition is such that during election the supporters of both the parties must be kept at a distance from the polling centres. Otherwise the booth would be unsafe.
Normally the members of political activists and supporters are kept at a distance so that in case of quarrel steps could be taken properly. The security arrangement remains so strong that none can enter the polling booth. The area remains perfectly guarded. None can enter the booth without voter slip and the voters after casting their votes leave the booth immediately. This sort of strict measure is necessary to guard against rigging. Every contesting party engages its polling agents in the booth to observe the fair casting of votes. This is the situation normally prevails in the polling booth on the election day. Is there is any scope to engage watchers to guard the polling booth? If large number of people gets access to the booth or gather nearby, they could create opportunity for rigging. The system to keep the polling booth area free from much gathering is certainly a pragmatic step to prevent rigging. If a large numbers of supporters of any party are near or around the booth enter the booth when found suitable it would become impossible for the 15 to 20 members of the law enforcing agencies to face them. It is better to keep the party activists at least 500 yards away from the booth. No gathering should be allowed within and outside the booth within 500 yards of the centres. There must not be any such gathering during election day in the area.
The idea to guard the centres by the opposition supporters as has been suggested by Dr Kamal and other opposition leaders will create pandemonium in the booth area and the watchers may take the opportunity of this anarchic situation. The opposition activists and supporters may enter into the booth for rigging and surely the supporters of the ruling party would try to prevent them. The result would be a bloody clash between the ruling party and opposition and no option be left for holding a free and election.
For holding a free and fair election a peaceful atmosphere is necessary. The EC has to take all responsibility to maintain law and order in the polling centres and the surrounding areas. It must take stringent measure against the hooligans who generally try to gather in and around the polling booth and create violence during election. On the election day only the voters and nobody else should be allowed to enter the booth. The camps for giving voter slips may be there but at a pretty distance. None should be allowed even in the surrounding areas.
The opposition leaders have been talking persistently since the election schedule has been declared that the EC has not been pursuing the correct policy of holding a free and fair election. They are always charging the EC to favour the ruling party. This is probably an attempt to prove that the EC is partisan. They are also binging allegations against the ruling party, the administration and the EC in a way as if all these three have a combined policy to defeat the opposition. Since the EC is the referee and the participating parties are playing in the election game if the opposition refuses to accept the dictation of the referee, how the election be conducted in a meaningful manner? It is now presumed that the opposition is probably doubtful about their victory and they may reject the result declared by the EC. That is why they are barking against the EC so loudly. This is a subtle policy that the opposition is willing to implement.
In such a situation the charges brought against the EC, off and on by the opposition should be systematically ignored. The EC should not succumb to the unjust demand of the opposition. The EC must remember that it enjoys all powers that are needed to hold a free and fair election. It is the supreme authority in the election process. Even the administration is under the EC. So it should not bow down to any undue pressure.

Dr S A Malek is former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, General Secretary of Bangabandhu Parishad and a columnist