Briefing on election rigging at ANFREL office in Bangkok on 12 February 2019

Dear All Human Rights Defenders present here…on behalf of all people who have lost their human and other rights in Bangladesh, I welcome you to this briefing in Bangkok today.

I am a Bangladeshi Blogger and Online activist by passion and a medical doctor by training. I am not affiliated to any political party or ideology, yet due to my pro democracy activism my moral support remains for those who are in the fight of restoring democracy in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is famous for many wrong reasons: gross human rights violation, plundering of its resources, erosion of democratic institutions and civil space are the on the top of the list. The last election added as another rotten feather to its crown.

In the real sense no election took place in Bangladesh on December 30. “Vote-rigging” is a pretty mild word to define what happened in Bangladesh that day. The State machineries were put in use to rob the people of their voting rights.

In connivance with the election officials and police, the ruling Awami League party stuffed ballot boxes across most voting centers in the country hours before polling began on December 30 morning.

A Transparency International study revealed that Electoral irregularities like stamping ballot papers the night before the polls and ballot stuffing by capturing booths on the Election Day took place in 47 out of 50 constituencies surveyed.

The study found other irregularities include silence of law enforcers and administrative officials, casting fake votes, barring voters from going to polling stations, forcing voters to cast vote for a specific symbol and barring polling agents from going to centers.

TI termed the election “partially participatory, non-competitive, questionable and faulty” and demanded judicial inquiry into the reported irregularities during the election.

If the election were free and fair, then Hasina would not have won in any way. Its not my assessment only, Indian Ex Diplomat and ORF fellow Pinak Ranjon said the same in September 5 last year.

“There is growing consensus that if elections are free and fair, the AL will be reduced to an embarrassing minority in the next Parliament. Many critics believe that the Hasina government will “manage” the election. This is popularly called “rigging” in South Asia.”

You can clearly notice that people across the board knew it is going to be a managed election.

Even a constituent party in the ruling Awami League-led coalition JSD has said the election was tainted. Ballot boxes were secretly filled on December 29 night, the party said.

“All parties and the people took part in the election enthusiastically. But, after the election was over, the whole nation is drowned in sadness. This is largely because one over-enthusiastic section of the administration stuffed the ballot boxes with fake votes during the night before the polling day and indulged in many related irregularities,”

Now several questions surrounding the rigging are surfacing. Did the administration indulge in rigging without any directive from high-ups? Certainly, a corresponding directive came from the higher authority. Who exactly are they who issued the directive? Who controlled the administration during the polling?

During the run-up to the election the ruling party leaders and activists violently attacked the opposition party election candidates and their supporters to keep them away from electioneering. Interestingly, in many cases the attacks by the ruling party workers took place in the presence of police.

Between 2009 and 2018, at least 90,340 cases were filed against over 2.57 million leaders and workers of the opposition party, the largest opposition party in the country. Right now, around 76,000 opposition leaders and workers are behind the bars. In the past decade 1,512 opposition leaders and workers were killed.

In December, when the parties were campaigning for the election, over 12,000 opposition leaders and activists were arrested. Police arrested thousands of activists from the opposition coalition who were to work as polling agents during the election.

Arrests of the polling agents were aimed to keep the opposition representatives away from the voting centers so that the ruling party activists could rig the election smoothly.

After the schedule was announced, the opposition activists and candidates has been attacked 289 times, 13 thousand people were injured, 9 were killed, and 16 MP candidates were taken to prison. 50 candidates were seriously injured. There was no election campaign for any constituency.

Let us have a brief look on how the Election was rigged. Election was rigged in multiple layers. I would like to discuss about few:

  1. Election Commission’s bias:
    141 nomination papers of OIkko Front were cancelled for petty reasons like not paying the credit card’s annual renewal fee. None of the ruling party nomination paper were cancelled.
  2. Police repression:  Which I discussed earlier.
  3. Secret meeting of serving burocrates:
    The news of the secret meeting of a bureaucrat was made to know where they were planning for Awami League’s win in the elections. Most of the accused were found to have been present in that place on that day.
  4. Creating an environment so that no one could capture of proof of election fraud:
    Two of them were banning mobile phones and suspending 3 & 4 G network.
  5. No candidate of the opposition has been allowed to run election campaign:
    Awami League hooligans attacked in the presence of police in election campaigns and procession. No banner poster allowed to put. Even at the school gate, there was an opposition poster the head master of that school was arrested by police and the court sent the teacher to jail without giving bail.
    They could not print a poster. Either Awami League hooligans threatened to not publish the posters on the press or intelligence agency has snatched away the poster.
  6. Cancelation of the candidacy by the court:
    The nomination of 13 candidates of the Oikko front were canceled, so alliance didn’t have any candidates in 13 constituencies.
  7. Threatening opposition voters so that they do not go to the polling station:
    Throughout the country, many Awami League workers and Awami League leaders have given instructions to the workers of the Awami League, how the unity front voters, leaders and activists will be prevented from going to the polling station. An MP can be seen publicly threatening that those who are not voters of Awami League should not go to the polling booth.
  8. Open campaign for ruling party by Police officers in uniform  
  9. Restrictions on election observers

In total, 25 920 observers from 81 institutions of Bangladesh have been allowed to monitor the elections. This number one eighth of the 2001 election and less than one sixth of 2008 election.

Fake election observers have been named as international observers who later said they regret for joining this fake process.

Nevertheless, 10-15% over enthusiastic voters went to the center to vote, they were not allowed. From early in the day, the people of the government party were standing to form a fake queue, the queue was not progressing and the people standing in the queue always came back and stood in front of the queue again. When True voters protested against them and Police, RAB, BGB and awami holigans beaten them up.

In six constituencies They used EVM. And EVM registered 51.41% votes whereas EC says 80% voters exercised their franchise. The question remains why there is a difference between EVM and Non EVM centers.

There were an arrangement that using Presiding Officer’s fingerprint anyone can vote for 25% of voters of that centers on EVMs. It was argued that if the voter’s fingerprint do not work, then the Presiding Officer will give an impression of his finger and the voters will vote on the EVM machine. We can take this 25% of vote was cast in favour of Awami League.

Among the foreign media outlets BBC Bangla, Al Jazeera, Voice of America, Daily Telegraph, New York Times, Deutsche Welle and a few others carried related reports on vote-rigging in Bangladesh and helped expose the massive level of manipulation in the election. A small section of the local media like New Age, Jugantar and Manabzamin, Prothom Alo and Daily Star which at least hinted in their self-censored reports that vote-rigging had taken place in the election. During the run up to the election these five magazines said that the equal opportunity for parties was not guaranteed for all contestants participating in the election.

Opposition had long been saying that an election held under the ruling party-led government would never be free, fair and all-inclusive. Opposition stuck to the demand for holding the election under a neutral caretaker government. Awami League-led government refused to accept the demand for which all opposiions stayed away from the 2014 general election.

The opposition coalition Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF) took part in the eleventh general election on December 30 after the international community sort of assured that the election would be free and fair. Now, after the election was massively manipulated in favour of the ruling party, the international community should come forward with an open statement that the election was not held in a free and fair style in Bangladesh and that the current government has not been elected through a fair voting process.

The international community and the global groups fighting for the human and democratic rights ought to take a pro-active role to force the government of Bangladesh to set up a neutral caretaker government and hold the eleventh general election again as soon as possible.

There is a bar on free speech or criticism against the government in Bangladesh. Could we get cooperation from some friends if we hold a conference outside Bangladesh in which representatives of Bangladesh’s opposition parties, civil society members, human rights groups, pro-democracy activists, representatives from Bangladeshi and international media could present their views to let the international community figure out how the December 30 election was massively rigged by the ruling party with support from the state machineries. I am ready to commit myself to this issue if some organisations are ready to support this project.

They used the state machinery to massively rig the election in an unprecedented style. This is an international problem- not one for only Bangladesh. If a state becomes corrupt or its machineries start breaking down, it affects all members of the international community, apart from troubling the lives of its citizens. The political institution of the state of Bangladesh is rotting. I am carrying its bad smell. It’s not that late as yet. Please let us join hands and do our best to save this state from going to ruins. The majority of the helpless citizens in Bangladesh are eagerly waiting for your help, which can perhaps let them escape a much bigger crisis.




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